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Averting Leaks And Hazards In Chemical Plants And Labs

Averting Leaks And Hazards In Chemical Plants And Labs

By Friedhelm Best, Vice President APAC, HIMA

The chemical industry in the Asia Pacific region continues to grow, accounting for a 58.6 percent share of the global chemical industry’s revenue in 2020.

Serving as the mainstay of numerous industries such as pharmaceuticals, automotive, oil and gas, the chemical industry employs up to 20 million people worldwide. Increased competition, economic uncertainties, and accidents have spurred restructuring processes with important ramifications for a safer working environment. Now, plant operators are demanding improved solutions to safeguard operations, reducing safety concerns in the chemical industry.

Industrial accidents, often involving chemicals have reported hundreds of deaths in Asia. In July 2021, a chemical leak at Wah Yan Hong plant in Guiyang, the capital of southwest China’s Guizhou province, has resulted in 8 deaths and 3 injured individuals. Although the investigation revealed that the chemical leak happened during a vehicle unloading, other accidents involving companies’ weak adherence to safety standards have been commonly traced. Working with hazardous materials under extreme pressure and heat expose workers to danger. Such chemical leaks can have serious implications on mortality, health, environment, finance, and laws.

The need for improved leak detection systems

Containing miles of pipelines, identifying and correcting leaks in a chemical plant has been problematic. The potential cost of remediation and possible financial penalties due to pipeline leaks in plants had increased, as had the threat of damage to the operator’s reputation from the possible negative environmental 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 modernise and expand, operators are demanding for improved detection systems.

Beyond chemical plants, the ongoing global crisis has elevated the need for labs, which in turn, can present chemical and biological risks in the event of leaks. Such labs have an equitable need for high quality and dependable leak detection systems as chemical plants.

Factors to look for in a reliable and future-proof leak detection system

Plant operators and even labs may be unfamiliar with the factors to look for in a reliable leak detection system. The primary factors to look at when evaluating the best solutions include:

  • 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. Vendors such as HIMA has innovated solutions (such as FlexSILon PMC Hybrid) that can connect systems for leak detection and emergency shutdowns, managing flow controls within its hardware, while using secure “Safe Ethernet” to deliver pressure and temperature reading to specific locations without allowing cybersecurity breaches. Plant operators should adopt solutions that can assure maximum functional safety and extremely high reliability by automatically shutting down any affected areas during critical situations. As plant operators and labs take safety as the “primus inter pares”  for the future, safety systems will become a ubiquitous part of its critical infrastructure.

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