10th January 2020
MHT Technology Ltd, a company based in Richmond North Yorkshire, is a global supplier of tank gauging, terminal automation and stock management solutions for bulk liquid storage and handling. MHT recently launched a new solution called ‘Safe Ops’ that digitises paper-based checklists, enabling operators to carry out their checks quickly and efficiently with an easy to use smartphone app. MHT puts the customer at the heart of everything they do, they listen to feedback and ideas presented by the clients they work with.
Safe Ops was created when Inter Terminals, a client of MHT Technology, collaborated with them to find a solution with their current operations. The dangers of manual paper-based checks became evident to their client when they assessed their operations for risks. Despite years of experience, they discovered there is always the possibility of shipping the wrong product to a customer. A simple mistake can result in the forced shut down of the customer’s factory and the destruction of contaminated stock. Operators using paper-based systems often become unintentionally complacent using the same procedures day after day resulting in shortcuts being taken.
‘People are not robots.’
‘When working for many years people turn onto autopilot. People are not robots: they might be tired, they might be bored, and find the job mundane. We must take the human factors into consideration, we are not perfect, however in this business one mistake might lead to a serious disaster. You can’t be distracted, even for a second,’ are the views from an Operations Manager from Inter Terminals.
Paper based operations also have a disadvantage when capturing data. Although paper checklists are usually filed away after completion they can be misplaced, and the data is not open for analysis to enhance the operations further. HSE favours clear and precise documents to evidence that correct procedures have been followed. Having that evidence in a digital format makes it much easier to track and locate specific data.
How Safe Ops can help
Safe Ops accommodates your existing operations allowing cost-effective migration to a digital platform, with human factor at the forefront of its design.
MHT’s app for ATEX certified Android smartphones gives clear and instant feedback to the operator, displaying a green icon for successfully completed checks and a red icon to highlight any errors made, providing the ability to instantly correct the mistake before the next stage.
Operators can verify they are at the right site location by scanning a QR code on signage around the terminal. Individual pieces of plant equipment can be identified by attaching RFID tags to them, operators can scan the tags to ensure they are connecting the right loading arm or opening the correct valve. Operators’ interest is maintained by gamification of checking order details. For example, a random list of customers is presented and the one relating to the order must be selected.
For added safety ATEX hazardous area Zone 1 certified physical controllers can be optionally integrated to act as permissives. The operator simply presents the smart phone with a successfully completed series of checks to a controller to activate a pump, open a valve, or release a locked gate.
The smartphone app features several security considerations including PIN access, the ability to lock phones if they fail to synchronise with the server regularly, and encryption of data between the phone and server.
Provides managers with the ability of data mining in the form of an Audit Trail to analyse day-to-day operations, red-flagging vulnerable areas of their operations so they can target improvements on the most error prone or most used procedures.
With the aid of Safe Ops, operators can make the handling of hazardous materials such as petrochemicals, fuels and chemicals, controlled, measured and safer, reducing the human element of risk associated with product loading and discharging processes. All without sites investing in expensive automation projects that disrupt operations and increase maintenance costs.
Developing Safe Ops
“The system concept was developed with our customer,” said Marcus Webster, Product Manager and former Software Engineering manager at MHT Technology. “At first we approached the problem by trying to develop a heavily engineered solution. ATEX Zone 1 electronic devices that linked back to servers at the site that would be interrogated when an operator wanted to load a truck. It soon became evident that this required lots of effort, the cabling alone represented weeks of work.”
“We then realised that the problem wasn’t that the equipment at the site needed to be controlled, it was that the operators needed a way of establishing that they are doing the right thing. No one turns up to work expecting to make mistakes or work unsafely.”
MHT engineers then devised a system that used a mobile phone to run the operators through a checklist, before confirming visually to the operator that the checks had been passed. It was realised that a checklist on a mobile phone could do more than just ticking a box, operators could scan QR codes, RFID tags as well as answer questions about the job they are undertaking. “Being much more than checklists, we named them ‘Check Schemes’”, said Marcus, “This realisation that check schemes could be applied to many procedures on site, not just loading trucks, inspired us to get behind the product and develop it further.”
Server connecting while the operator has a break
A Safe Ops system consists of a server, which can either be deployed in the cloud or on the customer’s own premises. Operations managers access the server using a web browser and from there can configure and manage the site’s check schemes. The Safe Ops app is installed on Android mobile devices, which are registered with the server over a Wi-Fi network.
The Wi-Fi network does not need to cover the whole site, the system is designed so that operations can be carried out without any immediate contact with the server. When the phone is within range of the Wi-Fi network, it synchronises with the server; the latest versions of the check schemes are downloaded on to the phone, and the activities the phone has performed are uploaded to the server. “By installing the Wi-Fi access point in the staff canteen, the operators can hand in their checklists and receive changes to procedures while enjoying their morning cup of coffee.”
An example of how Safe Ops is used as part of a truck loading process.
Safe Ops in action
The operator begins by scanning a QR code printed on the works order. The QR code is generated by either filling in a form on the server, or calling an API on the server. The QR code identifies the check scheme to use, a reference number for the activity and the expected values the operator will give. The operator steps through the checks one-by-one, an incorrect response prompts the operator to try again, correct responses confirm that the operator is at the right loading bay, or using the right loading arm. When the final check is completed successfully the operator is given a clear confirmatory message. If a physical control is used the phone is presented to a controller and a permissive relay is closed allowing the machinery to be activated.
The data uploaded to the server includes a timestamped log of things that have happened on the phone, including the incorrect responses the operator has given. Supervisors can examine the handling of a specific order to confirm issues regarding delays completing the procedure. They can also report statistics for the performance of processes.
Change control within Safe Ops
Check schemes are subject to a workflow within the system. This gives the operations manager the ability to create a new check scheme, test it, then get it approved for use and retire old schemes at the end of their life. “Paper-based systems while being cheap to implement, are difficult to change and maintain. This leads to a reluctance to attempt to improve procedures resulting in missed opportunities for safer and more efficient working.”
Dr Sina Joneidy from Teesside University stated; ‘Safe Ops is an outstanding digital solution. Not only because of how the algorithm and potential technology behind it has been maximised, but also because of how the human factor sits at the centre of this solution right from the beginning. When it comes to digitalisation, there is a great tendency to see data and technology at the core. But they strongly believe the human element is equally important and key.’
MHT has the ambition to get Safe Ops into other sites to help them digitally transform their operations. Contact them today to see how they can future-proof your operations.
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