The industrial sector is facing growing pressure to meet the rising demand for goods and energy. To meet these demands, implementation of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)-enabled tools can be instrumental in helping to increase production by improving plant connectivity, efficiency and scalability. IIoT leverages connected assets, secured cloud-based data and advanced analytics to enable new way to optimize business results.

The 2019 IIoT Thought Leadership Study1 found that 70 percent of industrial executives surveyed have invested significantly in IIoT at their facilities and 94 percent have cited improvements to business productivity. The study polled 600 U.S. business professionals in senior roles, including C-suite executives, senior vice presidents, vice presidents and directors, across six industrial industries.

In most industrial facilities, the distributed control system (DCS) manages the daily production and operation of the plant while the safety-instrumented system (SIS) protects life, the environment, and the equipment.

To date, most emphasis has been on how the integration of IIoT improves process operations and automation in the DCS; however, IIoT plays a critical role beyond the production line. It can also strengthen fire and life safety under the plant SIS.

Fire and Life Safety IIoT

Under a plant’s SIS, fire and life safety components such as fire detection, gas detection and suppression systems traditionally have basic communication with one another – they often were not tested as a system prior to installation. As a result, these systems frequently experience maintenance issues and even false alarms that can lead to production downtime.  

The advent of IIoT has allowed these three separate systems to work together as one to generate better shared data that improves response, mitigation and process uptime. IIoT enables an integrated industrial fire system to simultaneously analyze secure cloud-based data generated from multiple fire and gas detection sensors throughout the plant. The data gathered from these points can present a holistic, real-time look into the perceived threats and determine the appropriate response level from a centralized program easily managed by the operator. Without an IIoT-enabled system, a plant operator usually must assess each individual sensor and pinpoint where the issue was located and assess a threat level before being able to decide an appropriate response.

Integrated features

An integrated industrial fire system would have redundancy to eliminate single points of failure to keep functioning in an emergency. Plus, it would have hot swapability, which allows providers to install new or maintain existing devices without disruptions to plant operations. Combining this feature set with IIoT, the analytics and connectivity will assist in the performance-based analysis conducted for device installation, such as gas detection. As performance enhancing upgrades to the plant occur, the benefits of IIoT can reduce the time for the performance-based analysis, ensuring the highest and most efficient level of protection.

The impact of IIoT has been so great that industrial executives who have made significant IIoT investments have cited improvements to near-miss safety issues (90 percent), reportable safety incidents (89%) and unscheduled downtime (88 percent).1

Continuing to explore additional ways to use IIoT to enhance fire and life safety systems will only help to further improve the protection of the facility and its employees.

Implementing IIoT

The benefits of employing IIoT to build an industrial fire system are clear. Plant operators should consider the following key aspects during the transition:

  • Understand the capacity of existing systems – The increased collection of data is a main driver of fire and life safety optimizations that IIoT offers. While this provides a platform for improved analytics and more advanced planning, the impact of this additional demand for data on the existing IT system of the plant needs to be managed to ensure production performance is not compromised.
  • Maintain SIL standards and practices – Any industrial fire system should be Safety Integrity Level (SIL)2 rated, an international standard that identifies all process hazards, estimates the risk of failure and determines the product will “fail safely” if a failure occurs. Any move to a new system or devices needs to maintain existing SIL levels.
  • Prepare for what lies ahead – It’s undeniable that demand for goods and energy will continue to grow; however, preferences on the types of goods and energy may change over time. Creating a technology roadmap to understand how plants may need to expand or update an existing fire and life safety system to accommodate evolving preferences is a smart way for plant operators to future-proof their facility.

IIoT evolution 

A majority (93 percent) of industrial executives who have already invested a significant amount plan to increase their investment within the next three years.1 As IIoT investments grow, the amount of data generated by both the DCS and SIS in plants will also increase – presenting an opportunity to leverage the information across platforms in multiple ways. And the amount of fire and gas detection sensors placed throughout the plant could potentially collect non-life safety data back to the DCS for analysis and processing. Data collected and shared across both systems could help plant operators understand real-time operating conditions, historical performance and maintenance requirements, enabling faster and more informed decision making.

Industry is entering a new era where investments in energy production, transportation and storage will drive greater need for industrial fire products that are reliable and easy to use. Advanced analytics, cloud-based solutions and enterprise digitization are beginning to enable the next big revolution in performance and safety — helping to turn data into actionable knowledge.