Safety is a vital concern for the energy industry. When potentially flammable materials such as oils and natural gas are used in generating power, the need to maintain all plant, equipment and machinery to the highest level of excellence is an absolute priority.
At the same time, the hazardous environment created while a plant is operation can make it difficult or impossible for engineers to check equipment and track down any faults - and remote monitoring devices can often give insufficient visual clarity or limited visibility range to diagnose potential problems accurately.
This was the challenge facing global power generation company InterGen at its cutting edge new power plant in Spalding, Lincolnshire. Spalding Energy Power Plant, which began commercial operation in 2004, is one of the most modern and efficient in the UK.
With an output of 860 MW, it uses a combination of gas turbines, heat recovery steam generators and steam turbines to supply energy into the UK National Grid.
"Our two gas turbines operate practically around the clock," says Ged Button, LTE engineer at the plant. "When they're running, it's against site procedures for anyone to enter certain areas inside the installation because of the potential risks. At the same time, we needed to be able to monitor equipment constantly in these areas."
The solution was Forward Vision's unique MIC1-440 ATEX certified fully functional pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) camera. The MIC1-440 ATEX certified range of cameras meet the stringent ATEX Directive 94/9/EC Exd IIC T6 for safe use in explosive atmospheres like those found in oil, gas, chemical processing sites and petrochemical refineries. They are precision engineered to deliver 360º continuous rotation pan with 320º tilt and zoom in on precise spots, allowing a remote operator a complete, panoramic view of the area they survey.
With an optically perfect flat viewing window. And for environments where volatile gases create a risk of explosion, the fact that the MIC1-440 camera unit is fully sealed against any electrical spark escaping means that it was ideal for the job that InterGen needed it to do at Spalding.
Richard Markham, R&D manager at Forward Vision, says, "This is one of the types of installation we envisaged when we designed this camera. Thanks to the sheer versatility of the MIC1-440 and the pan, tilt and zoom control, an operator can see absolutely everything from a safe, remote location. The camera's ATEX certification ensures totally safe operation in what is a potentially volatile environment at the Spalding Energy Plant."
The camera was installed in one of the two gas turbines at Spalding by business security specialists ADT, and within a few days it amply justified its presence.
"We discovered a slight oil leak," says Ged Button. "A few days after the camera was installed, we found a small pool of oil on the floor near some piping. Our engineers knew that the leak was almost certainly caused by a change in oil pressure, which manifested itself when the machinery was running. When it was offline, it was impossible to see where the leak was happening. We needed to be able to observe the section of installation near to the pool of oil while the plant was running. It was an ideal job for the camera."
The camera was directed at the suspect area of piping once the plant was fired up again, and the operators were able to zoom in closely to examine all the joints. The camera's excellent images enabled them to identify the place where the oil was leaking almost immediately. The plant was shut down once more and the repair swiftly and efficiently completed. Afterwards, the camera was used to ensure that the repair was effective.
"Unplanned shutdowns can have a major impact on Spalding's commercial business," adds Ged Button. "Although the leak was small, problems like this have to be rectified immediately for obvious safety reasons. Without the ability to diagnose the problem safely and remotely, it could well have cost InterGen many thousands of pounds to attempt to locate the leak while the plant was offline."
Ged Button was impressed by the quality of Forward Vision's equipment, and the level of service offered by the installer, ADT. He said: "The camera is able to do exactly what we needed it to do, in a very difficult environment. It gives us confidence that we can operate to the very highest level of safety."