The Chemical and Petroleum industries provide challenging environments for the design and implementation of IoT solutions.  Especially for the oil majors who operate around the globe and seek common, replicable and scalable solutions.  A solution suitable for the petrochem industry differs from solutions for other industrial sectors due to hazardous locations requiring specially designed and tested devices (e.g. Class I / Division 1 or Zone 0 compliant devices) and locations with nonexistent or limited network connections.

When designing solutions, beyond providing basic functions such as inventory tracking or asset management, it is important to address environmental requirements, network limitations, telecom regulations, and export/import logistics. In many instances, facilities are outside the coverage of cellular networks and do not have Wi-Fi available given the large scale of outdoor sites in remote areas. As a result, technologies relying on satellite, LoRa or mesh networks can be used. Each of these technologies has a unique set of pros and cons to be evaluated. Important considerations include how much data is being collected from the device or sensor; is the data being stored and used only at the facility or will it be sent to the cloud; and will the solution meet rigorous reliability and latency standards. Security is an increasingly important consideration.

Because of the quantity and value of mobile equipment used in these industries, tracking asset location and utilization are common applications. In the context of a customer with global requirements, understanding their global operations are important. Are there simply mobile assets in different countries or do their assets move around the globe? In many instances, while the assets are mobile, the assets remain at one facility. When they go beyond the facility, the assets tend to be redeployed to a nearby facility or site. Assets that travel the globe are a prime candidate for satellite tracking solutions, especially given the remote, ‘off the grid’ locations where many facilities exist. However, when assets remain at the same site, even a large geographic site, a mesh network or cellular solution may be more appropriate. Knowing where assets may move is important to selecting the appropriate tracking technology.

Sourcing equipment that both meets certification requirements and is authorized for operation in a variety of countries is challenging. Most countries require International Type Approval (homologation) for radio and telecommunications devices. As a result, it is important to ensure that the proposed hardware is authorized for usage in the intended country. Failure to obtain necessary approvals risks compliance with applicable telecommunications regulations and can create issues clearing customs due to improper documentation or labels. This is important in the context of the initial deployment and for devices that move from one country to another post-deployment. Understanding these unique factors and regulations associated with each country is critical when planning a cost-effective, compliant solution.

Post-implementation support for a global solution has additional considerations.  Providing support documents in multiple languages helps make deployments more successful and local resources more capable of addressing issues. When local support is not able to resolve an issue, 24-hour support becomes critical for many locations. Other important considerations are warranty and management of returns. The traditional warranty and RMA process involves returning a defective device for repair or replacement. This entails returning a device to the United States or other central location for processing. The costs and compliance of shipping and processing devices may be cost prohibitive, especially from remote locations. Encrypted devices may present another set of issues. Accordingly, consider how warranty support and spares provisioning should be handled during the initial deployment.

When designing an IoT solution for the chemical and petroleum industry, it is not only important to select the required hardware, software and network components, but also to ensure that you understand the regulatory factors, risks and considerations that are unique to the industry as well.

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