Designing Intrinsically Safe Wearables for the Oil & Gas Industry

Post date :

Jan 10, 2024

Let's shed some light on the difficulties of designing devices for explosive environments

In demanding workplaces like oil rigs, chemical plants, and refineries, where worker safety is paramount, standard electrical equipment often fails to meet necessary safety standards. With combustible materials within these environments, just a mere spark could lead to an explosion. As a result, Intrinsically Safe (IS) measures are vital for operating electrical equipment in these high-risk areas. The IS approach involves limiting energy, electrical, and thermal levels to prevent combustion risks.

Challenges of Building IS Devices for Oil & Gas

Creating electronics for the oil and gas industry is complex, balancing numerous requirements. Designing and certifying an IS device adds layers to these challenges. Various agencies globally certify IS equipment, with European certification known as ATEX and North American standards like NEC500, available through UL, FM, CSA, or QPS.

IECEx is a voluntary system offering proof of compliance with IEC standards. With varying international standards, equipment must go through multiple testing cycles to meet an individual country s standards. IECEx certification can streamline national compliance, eliminating the need for additional testing and facilitating international trade. IECEx is highly regulated with strict control mechanisms. It s easy to see why IECEx certification can be seen as a seal of approval.

Understanding NEC500 Class 1 and ATEX Zone 1

NEC500 Class 1, Div 1 certification, and ATEX Zone 1 designation are crucial for devices in areas with presence of flammable vapors. These certifications ensure that devices can safely operate in environments where explosive atmospheres are likely under normal operations.

Correct product designation is critical for safety. Inaccurate designations can lead to severe consequences, including injuries, fatalities, and legal issues. Certification involves months of rigorous testing by independent third parties, with few labs globally qualified to provide it.

Calling in the IS experts

For Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), manufacturing and certifying IS products for global hazardous locations is incredibly challenging. That s why we sought advice from the best in the business when it comes to intrinsic safety.

We once again followed guidance from MOBILE, who integrate international standards into product development and participate in relevant standards committees, ensuring products meet explosion protection requirements from the ground up.

The challenging development of RealWear Navigator Z1

Developing RealWear Navigator Z1, our latest hands-free IS wearable, brought unique challenges. We aimed for a modular design that s untethered and voice-controlled, building upon the success of the original HMT-1Z1 IS device (it is used in virtually all majors for safer inspections, remote calls and troubleshooting), which set the standard for IS wearables and was the first commercially available ATEX head-mounted product.

The iconic "horseshoe" design of the RealWear Navigator Z1 ensures a balanced weight distribution, making it comfortable to wear, even with various safety helmets in field conditions. The device is engineered to adapt to head movements, with the ability to bend, rotate, and flex in multiple directions, maintaining its functionality even after years of rugged use.

The rigorous testing process for this device included exposure to extreme conditions it might encounter during its lifetime, such as severe impact, varying temperatures, and humidity. It is designed to endure these harsh conditions and continue to operate flawlessly. Enhancements over the original models, such as HMT-1 and HMT-1Z1, include increased computing power and the introduction of AI Core, featuring the most advanced processor in any RealWear device, the Qualcomm 6490 chipset, tailored for superior on-device AI experiences.

Our goal was to enhance the productivity and safety of frontline workers by minimizing the weight and incorporating modularity into the design. This included making the battery and camera module both integrated and removable, allowing them to be swapped outside hazardous zones to provide additional functionality such as thermal imaging to highlight abnormal temperatures.

The modularity is a feature not previously seen in such devices. Additionally, it was crucial to meet, if not exceed, the stringent rugged standards demanded by industries like oil, gas, and mining.

Given the stringent requirements for intrinsic safety, RealWear Navigator Z1 underwent a comprehensive testing regime by safety experts. Building on the success of HMT-1Z1, our collaboration with MOBILE for this project was a natural progression, leveraging their expertise in crafting intrinsically safe solutions.

Final Word of Caution

Whether you opt for a RealWear solution or different hardware, it s imperative that you ensure your device is actually safe for purpose. Not all solutions on the market that state that they re Intrinsically Safe actually carry the necessary certifications. It s crucial to verify certification details with vendors for safety assurance just ask them up front. RealWear is actively pursuing multiple certifications, to be announced in early 2024.