Mumbai

Pune firm builds alert system to prevent explosions in chemical, pharma plants

Affordable option: For a factory with around 10 to 15 workers, installing the system costs about ₹4 lakh.

Affordable option: For a factory with around 10 to 15 workers, installing the system costs about ₹4 lakh.  

Electronic Supervisor issues instructions through a loudspeaker to workers

A firm in Pune has built a low-cost alert system to prevent explosions and help save lives in chemical and pharmaceutical plants. Every year, small and mid-sized factories in industrial belts in Maharashtra and the country are rocked by blasts, causing tremendous loss to human life and production material.

The implementation of safety standards for unskilled labourers is seldom a priority in these small and medium-sized enterprises. On March 8, a blast ripped through a chemical plant in Tarapur MIDC in western Maharashtra, killing three people and injuring 15. Its intensity damaged six other chemical plants in the vicinity and endangered the Tarapur Atomic Power station located nearby. Last year, an explosion at Turbhe MIDC caused damage to property worth crores. At least three blasts were reported in 2016. About 25 workers were killed and more than 200 seriously injured in these four blasts.

Indigenous system

Named Electronic Supervisor, the alert system has been developed by Pune’s Microverse Automation Pvt. Ltd. The founders claim that they are the country’s only indigenous manufacturer of distributed control systems.

Girish Mehendale, managing director, Microverse, said, “Safety has never been a priority for hundreds of SMEs in industrial clusters in Mumbai and Pune. Our objective is to replicate MNC automation at an affordable price while offering a very high degree of customisation to SMEs.”

Mr. Mehendale said the firm was started at their house in Pune’s Kothrud area in the late 1980s. Microverse now operates in the city’s Shivane area, with 25 employees focusing on core R&D. Work on the system began in early 2000s.

Mr. Mehendale said every chemical plant that carries out a batch process has a Standard Operating Procedure that comprises a set of sequential instructions. The SOP usually consists of directions followed by the workers such as ‘Add chemical A’, ‘Start heating the material’, ‘Add chemical B’, and ‘Monitor the temperature during addition of A to B’. Mr. Mehendale’s son Siddharth says,“The workers have either rudimentary or no education at all. So, the instructions in the alert system are recorded in the vernacular. The directive is repeated till the worker has carried out the step.”

The Electronic Supervisor stores the instructions in the form of audio files and instructions are issued through a loudspeaker connected to a Public Address System. Two push buttons are placed in the plant: one to confirm that worker has heard the instruction and the second to confirm he has complied with it.

Instant SMS alerts

The system announces an instruction and records the time the instruction was issued, when the worker acknowledged it and when he complied with it. Mr. Mehendale, “Critical parameters like temperature and pressure are continuously monitored. In case a problem arises, the system generates an audio warning to keep workers out of harm’s way. A few plant owners have said that they have sleepless nights dreading a blast. So we have ensured that a GPRS modem is connected to the system. SMS alerts about process upsets are sent to the managers concerned.”

For a factory with 10 to 15 workers, installing the system with the configuration requested costs about ₹4 lakh. The set up cost is low as it is a supervisory monitoring system that requires just a desktop computer and does not involve laying cables or installing sophisticated instruments.

‘Rise in productivity’

Mr. Mehendale said, “The system can guide unskilled labourers and the payback period of investment is less than a year. Maintenance costs are minimal as the system is not dependent on chemists. For the factory owner, it provides accountability and drastically increases the productivity of the workforce.” Pramod Pardhy, director, Arofine Polymers in Chakan MIDC, said, “The installation of the system in May last year eliminated our reliance on manual methods, helped optimise our workforce’s productivity and improve our product’s quality.”

‘Need change in mindset’

Neelima Mehendale, director (operations), Microverse, said, “The SME segment cannot afford to approach big players dealing in automation technologies owing to the high costs in setting up and maintaining such a system.” She said another hurdle was the mentality among larger enterprises that only foreign players like Honeywell, Yokogawa and Schneider are capable of producing good distributed control systems. Mr. Mehendale, however, said that smaller players were gradually changing their mindset and are interested in installing the system to increase productivity. “The system keeps tabs on all actions of workers, sends SMS alerts to superiors about troubles and generates a log of all actions. The system will make workers stay alert and behave more responsibly.”

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 12:25:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/pune-firm-builds-alert-system-to-prevent-explosions-in-chemical-pharma-plants/article23544384.ece

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