Interview with Craig Power: Using cloud technology for automating isolations

Isolations are a hot topic in the mining space. Not only do they contribute to the cost of major downtime, but they’re the first line of safety for people working on hazardous plant. Get them wrong, and people can die. We interviewed Craig Power, the inventor of iSOL8, a patented method for automating isolations using cloud technology, intelligent lock boxes, NFC (Near Field Communication) radio tagging and mobile devices.

To find out more on iSOL8, click here.

Craig, tell us about yourself…

I’m a Mechanical Engineer (FIE), a safety and commissioning expert and the inventor of iSOL8.

What’s iOSL8?

iSOL8 is a patented process for isolating industrial plant. More exactly, iSOL8’s a formal process for automating isolations using mobile devices.

For our non-technical readers, what’s an isolation?

An isolation is a stepwise process for making plant safe so that workers can work on it. Right now, isolations are controlled using workers’ personal locks, whose keys are then locked in a lockbox containing the master key to the locks on the isolated plant. Thus the plant can’t be de-isolated until all the workers have tagged off.

Why are isolations important?

Isolations are the first line of safety for workers working on dangerous equipment. Isolations ensure that plant is isolated from hazards such as electricity, gas and water and cannot be operated.

Do isolations have cost implications for projects?

Absolutely. The time it takes to safely isolate and de-isolate plant feeds directly into plant downtime. It’s not just the lost time cost of the downtime, but the downstream cost of lost production. In the event that an accident does occur, this can be disastrous for workers, the project and for businesses.

Do they have safety implications for workers?

Absolutely. Without stringent isolations, people are at risk of injury or death. It’s as real as that. People can die or be seriously injured.

So good isolation positively impacts both safety and cost?

Yes. Some changes increase safety but increase cost. Other changes may reduce safety by reducing cost. Good isolations increase safety and reduce cost. That’s ideal.

How can they be improved?

Firstly, by automation. Removing human touch points reduces the risk of human error. That means that the systems also have to be error-free.

Secondly, by providing better management information. The more we know about past isolations, the better we can plan for the future. Isolations planned at the design stage and recorded in systems can flow through operations for the life of the plant. That’s a major improvement.

How does your iSOL8 system work?

iSOL8 automates isolations using cloud technology, intelligent lock boxes, NFC (Near Field Communication) radio tagging and mobile devices. Using one App [the Gatekeeper], authorised isolators record the state of safety assets by tapping their smartphone on a tag, like you tap your phone or credit card at the supermarket checkout.

Using another App [the Keymaster] workers can’t tag on to work until all the assets associated with an isolation are safe. Using a browser-based back-office system, isolation planners create isolation plans and manage the assets. It’s equivalent to physical personal locks, but provided electronically and with structure. We’re in the process of building our own intelligent lockbox to facilitate the process.

We have a problem with employees leaving the work area with their isolation locks and tags still in place. How can your electronic solution solve this problem?

An Alarm in the control room and or security gate house is enabled if an employee moves out of a site Geo-Fenced zone and has not removed their electronic lock from the lockbox.

Gatekeeper and Keymaster sound familiar?

In the original Ghostbusters film, Sigourney Weaver played the Gatekeeper of Gozer. Rick Moranis played the Keymaster.

These are also ideal terms for these system components.

You have a patent, but we know technology is fiendishly difficult to patent. What aspects of isolation does your patent cover?

iSOL8’s a process. It’s independent of any technology solution. Patenting it was a complex and vital undertaking to protect the intellectual property.

But you also have a system?

Mineral Blue produced the iSOL8 system for me. I hope to license the technology to other developers in the future.

Is iSOL8 live anywhere?

Not yet. It’s brand-new technology. We are actively seeking partners who recognise and embrace the significant benefits of this system.

What’s the resistance?

In any enterprise, there is resistance to change and an unfounded fear of technology. Everyone I’ve spoken to has been enthusiastic. The increase in safety and production from using iSOL8 will be an important competitive advantage.

The “Key Change” is moving away from using physical personal isolation locks and keys to electronic locking.

What’s the future?

That’s a big question. The future of iSOL8 is winning a role in the Australian oil & gas and mining industries and then onto international oil and gas, mineral processing and energy markets in the USA and EU. I think that’s achievable.

The future of isolations is exciting. Smart locks are coming online that’ll enable plant to be isolated at the press of a control room button. iSOL8 slots straight into that model. In the meantime, a major new opportunity is providing real-time data to control panels. We’re speaking with Honeywell and Woodside Petroleum about that.

Craig, is there anything you’d like to add?

The big data produced by iSOL8 enables enterprises to conduct detailed analysis of the time stamped activity data such as plant downtime enabling improvements to be made to task scheduling and task implementation and tracking the effective allocation and use of human resources.

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