Complex technologies require more chemical processing than ever. So many products — from lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles to cooling systems for data centers — need the hands of chemical processing workforces. However, an increased demand equates to more safety concerns.
High-tech solutions are here and increasing worker safety around hazardous chemicals. Employing and experimenting with these technologies will reveal more ways to reduce risks for the chemical processing industry.
What Safety Concerns Can Tech Solve?
Chemical processing for tech or pharmaceuticals is dangerous for the workforce. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and monitoring cameras can only excel at specific safety applications. High-tech solutions will be an ideal supplement for classic safety solutions when it comes to concerns like:
- Human error
- Inadequate safety compliance
- Insufficient quality control
- Outdated raw materials and inventory
- Machine or technical defects
- Scarce educational resources for techs
- Gaps in industry knowledge
Facing these incidents and more, companies could incorporate novel technology solutions. However, caution must be exercised. Digital transformation is essential to remain competitive, but it’s necessary to create a holistic safety strategy of traditional precautions interwoven with tech.
1. Sensors and Automation
Smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 have made detective sensors and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology the norm in many businesses. It works nicely alongside other digital upgrades, like virtual reality and robotics.
Sensors constantly scan susceptible areas where chemical processing is most threatening, notifying employees and machinery to act in case of a potential threat. It can alert technicians of fires or leaks that could harm machine quality, worker safety and environmental wellness before they become uncontrollable.
IoT can also store data on inventories, including expiration dates and quantities. If chemicals are in short supply and store visibility is a concern, automated restocking can alleviate other pressures that might lead to unintentional consequences from human error. Automated inventory and supply chain management prevent chemists from working with unsafe materials, increasing safety.
Automation drives decisions based on data, knowing the best compliance practices at all times. The real-time data drive technicians to operate machines more readily to perform preventive maintenance. It can discover device trends to schedule equipment management and suggest parts replacements based on availability, saving machinists and chemists from maintaining potentially unsafe parts.
2. Drones and Robots
Drones are automated or manually operated, providing benefits for safety and surveying. Outdoor and internal inspections require countless hours of labor, and drone sensors are more accurate than human eyes. Drones can see how pipes handle chemical waste or notice changes in air quality inside the facility.
They could monitor an entire site or one machine — scalability is one of their main benefits. However, only 2% of drones are in manufacturing, despite their expected market value to rise over $15 billion in the U.S.
Companies can deploy robots on processing lines, using robotic arms to interact with dangerous substances that save humans while still obtaining results — like disinfecting chemical tanks. They can also detect security risks, protecting humans from physical or digital threats, especially when connected to a prepared cybersecurity team.
Drones and robots can only provide their best when oversight controls them. Drone collisions into delicate technology could offer more safety concerns than without them. Still, if utilized correctly, they can detect the most minute rust on cables, send alerts for emergency responders and collect imaging on processing progress for data scientists and process improvement.
3. Virtual and Augmented Reality
Every digital resource can collect information for digital twins that virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) can manifest. These replicas save countless time and money in failed research when realistic models are available in digital forms.
Other tech can produce chemical processing simulations, but few as well or as thoroughly as VR and AR. It increases safety by using data to inform future hypotheses. There is no need to experience in-house safety incidents when manufacturers can practice in pixelated yet practical settings, especially when it comes to bolstering staff with new-and-improved training scenarios for immersiveness.
4. Machine Learning and Predictive Analytics
Organizations need centralized and curated data to gain more knowledge about their chemical processing operations. To make better products more efficiently, machine learning and artificial intelligence can use predictive analytics to let workers know the best course of action without needing countless meetings. Process safety management software and machine learning data sets inform algorithms to generate safety improvement suggestions and best practices for employees.
As machine learning learns more about the workers and their trends, then the systems can suggest training to mend safety and security gaps. It assists in finding pain points and the most prominent safety concerns so companies do not waste investments in unnecessary corners of their business.
Predictive analytics transforms a business into a risk-based safety system, focusing attention on top concerns instead of diversifying resources to where it’s too spread out to make a meaningful difference. It can also predict:
- Machine failures that cause safety incidents
- Potential for chemicals to react unsafely
- Atmospheric or environmental changes that influence reactivity
- Employee-specific trends
5. Reaction Calorimetry
Chemists need safe, controlled environments to test dangerous chemical reactions. Reaction calorimetry is an advancing field that requires a safe area for chemical processing to happen on small scales. Scientists can use it to investigate potential and desired reactions and scan unintended or unsafe outcomes.
Calorimetry can simulate the consequences of failed experiments or hazard analysis without putting workers in danger, extending insight into what enterprises need to outfit themselves with to protect against a larger-scale incident. Sensitive factors like temperature and pressure could produce widely varied reactions.
One concoction could produce noxious fumes, while others may have acidic byproducts. It’s essential to use this high-tech machinery to analyze them before assuming PPE is enough to protect staff. Advanced calorimetric machinery gathers data on reactions to inform future experiments. It notifies testers of changes in mixtures, states of matter and the number of reactions in the scenario.
Increasing the Safety of Chemical Processing With Tech
Technology will be the reason chemical processing becomes safer. It can reduce top concerns like human error without intervention, providing companies with data to improve operations. Technological aids better protect workers, machines and the planet by providing continued improvement suggestions and a security blanket for the chemical processing sector.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine, an online publication that explores innovations in science and technology.