The technology to improve leak and hazard detection already exists. However, plant owners need to treat investments as primus inter pares.

As the chemical industry in the Asia Pacific region continues to grow, accounting for a 58.6% share of the global chemical industry’s revenue in 2020, plant operators are demanding improved solutions to safeguard operations and reduce safety concerns.

Industrial accidents, often involving chemicals, usually result in loss of lives. In July 2021, a chemical leak at Wah Yan Hong plant in Guiyang, the capital of south-west China’s Guizhou province, resulted in eight deaths and three injured workers. Although the investigation revealed that the chemical leak happened during vehicle unloading, other accidents involving companies’ weak adherence to safety standards have been commonly documented.

Working with hazardous materials under extreme pressure and heat exposes workers to danger. Chemical leaks can have serious implications on mortality, health, environment, finance, and regulatory actions.

Plugging leak risks: the pressure is on

Identifying and correcting leaks in a chemical plant is problematic as miles of pipelines are involved. However, the potential cost of remediation and possible financial penalties due to pipeline leaks in plants has increased, as has the threat of damage to the operator’s reputation from the possible negative environment impact.

Even when a leak detection system warns an action, plant operators often delay taking actions, risking both financial losses and corporate reputation. As plants continue to modernize and expand, operators are demanding improved detection systems.

The ongoing global crisis has elevated the need for not just chemical plants, but also for test labs. Accidents in the latter can also present chemical and biological risks in the event of leaks. Such labs need high quality and dependable leak detection systems as chemical plants.

Technology for future-proof leak detection

Plant and laboratory operators seeking reliable, future-proof leak detection systems need to keep the following primary factors:

  • Sensitivity: A combination of the size of a detectable leak and the time required to detect it
  • Reliability: A measure of the system’s ability to accurately access any existing leaks
  • Accuracy: The ability of a system to estimate leak parameters such as leak flow rate, total volume lost, and leak location
  • Robustness: The ability of a system to continue to function during unusual hydraulic conditions, or when data is compromised. This is an emerging and important need in the light of increasing supply chain cybersecurity attacks

The industry’s response to industry standards and to leak detection has been evolutionary. Suppliers of leak detection systems have innovated solutions that can connect systems for leak detection and emergency shutdowns, managing flow controls within hardware, while using secure “safe ethernet” to deliver pressure and temperature reading to specific locations—while protecting against cybersecurity breaches.

Going forward, operators of such industrial premises need to adopt solutions that can assure maximum functional safety and extremely high reliability—by being capable of automatically shutting down any affected areas during critical situations.

As plant owners, operators and labs take safety as the primus inter pares (literally, “first among equals”), future-proof and super reliable safety systems will become a mandatory part of any critical infrastructure.