Oil and gas - When mission critical truly means mission critical - an opinion piece from Industrial Design

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For further information contact: Mike Fikuart, managing director
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Telephone: +44 (0) 870 128 3835
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Fire protection design for the oil and gas industry

Most suppliers to the oil and gas industry will claim to offer a ‘mission critical’ service. But very few can back that claim up in the same way that fire control systems business Industrial Design can. The company provides fire and gas detection, suppression and emergency shutdown systems to companies across the globe. And, given that nothing can shutdown a facility quicker than the merest hint of flame, it’s clear what mission critical really means in the oil and gas industry. Quite apart from the devastation that could be caused by a serious fire or the accidental release of gas, the cost of the downtime created by a minor incident or false alert can be heart stopping. 

Unlike many suppliers in their industry, Industrial Design doesn’t manufacture and sell gas detectors. Instead, it supplies those produced by companies such as Draeger and Crowcon. This means that the customer is provided with an independent view of the best equipment for their needs. This independent view is maintained right down to the electromechanical control equipment in a panel, where Industrial Design continues to maintain an independent supply chain.


The company would argue that its capability is in the dynamic supply, design and installation of fire and gas protection systems. Industrial Design believes that safety comes down to decision making in the design process.  That is reflected in the action the system takes as a response to stimuli. Decisions like whether to use beacons, remote sounders or local sounders, when gas is detected and whether these should prompt evacuation or plant shut down are where the company’s expertise lies.


“We wouldn’t dictate the procedure,” explains managing director Mike Fikuart. “There are established guidelines that tell you what has to happen in different circumstances. But we can help our clients navigate their way through these guidelines to find the safe and compliant response. For instance, in the event of an uncontrolled release of flammable gas, one has to stop the gas from igniting. This sounds obvious, but you have to consider air conditioning shut down and the shutdown of the intakes into anything with a source of ignition, such as a motor?”


One also needs to consider the build up of other gases, such as carbon dioxide and similar gases that can become toxic when they reach hazardous levels. One needs to be very certain of exposure levels.”


In most cases a gas detection system is integrated with a fire safety system. For instance, at the end user level, most public buildings with a licence to serve alcohol store that alcohol in a cellar. Because of the carbon dioxide stored for use in the pumps, a system to detect leakage is required. As a result, in such cases Industrial Design tends to recommend equipment that can detect carbon dioxide or a lack of oxygen in the air and raise an alert without necessarily linking that alert to a fire.


Gas protection for the oil and gas industryDespite the fundamental principles of accidental-release gas detection being common to those of gas monitoring for process control, Fikuart believes it not to be a specialised art. “These are elementary calculations but at the same time it’s very different from gas detection for engineering,” he explains. “


Many of the projects Industrial Design is involved with are refurbishments and changes to existing systems. However, the company finds that new projects, while not as common, are an opportunity to bring a different skill-set to bear. “One of the reasons clients choose us is the concentration of industry knowledge within the company,” explains Fikuart. “We have a very broad base of experience and that means we can apply skills developed in one set of circumstances in another context. This can be reflected in the design and installation of a system or in the training, expertise and guidance that can go hand in hand with that process.”


Fikuart continues, “The future looks very positive at the moment because, on a local level, the UK energy sector is moving towards a greater dependence on imported gas in the short term globally, countries are going to have to be less reliant on coal. This means that, even though it’s not a long term solution, the next two or three decades will see an increase in the use of gas for energy.


For us this is a positive set of circumstances because gas and fire detection is synonymous with the oil and gas sector,” explains Fikuart. “We grew up around this industry so its second nature to us.”


Industrial Design is clearly a company that understands what is at stake in the oil and gas sector; it’s very rare to find them using the phrase ‘mission critical’ lightly.


Going the extra mile: Industrial Design boasts extensive global experience. To date, the company has developed a strong position on the international market in eleven countries, notably Africa and Europe. With a total of 75 successful projects to date, Industrial Design has built a reputation in the sector as being highly adaptable to new environments. The company’s senior management team makes around 25 trips worldwide every year, totalling 75,361 Km of international travel, which is no mean feat for the Oxfordshire based fire and gas protection specialist.