Ports are bustling hives of activity and dangerous places to be around at the best of times. Today, most serve as the gates of industry, housing all manner of containers and shipments.
In The Netherlands, Eurotank, which belongs to the VTTI Group, is a main liquid-bulk terminal in Amsterdam. Right now, the port is growing both in importance and size as a place for companies to store all kinds of fuel as more bio-diesel plants are being built.
Environments like these are proven testing grounds for communications infrastructure and equipment, requiring specialist standards when it comes to safety and mobile communication.
The ATEX directive, an EU standard and now a legal requirement in all European Union member states, protects employees that operate in hazardous areas with potentially explosive atmospheres by ensuring the equipment is ‘intrinsically safe’.
In turn, devices were designed to keep employees safe when working in areas such as those containing explosives, flammable gases or areas with high levels of dust, mist or vapour.
According to Marcel Coenen, sales engineer at Otos LMR Systems, he has seen a huge rise in interest in the market for Atex radios, a UK digital solutions company.
‘We’ve been selling radios to this kind of industry for years and there is a particularly big demand for analogue Atex radios because these companies want and need reliable communications between the control room and ships at the jetties,’ he says.
Coenen, who worked as part of the ATEX deployment team at Eurotank, says that newer systems bring extra costs and complications with them and some enterprises seem to prefer the smaller choice of analogue Atex radio models.
‘Operators and engineers are in the field and they all use radios as a safety measure, with analogue being the proven technology,’ he adds.
‘Motorola was used, before they bought Vertex Standard radios six years ago direct from us. This wasn’t a smart move but at that time nobody else was in the position to deliver Atex equipment, despite Motorola having problems with their Atex GP340. Then the Vertex VX800 couldn’t withstand impact from humidity and so we had to look at an alternative. provider’
Three years ago Coenen says he found one for clients in the form of Niros who were exhibiting at the PMRExpo in Leipzig, Germany.
‘From that moment on we focused on Niros as an alternative to Motorola radios,’ he says. ‘We’ve been delivering this kind of product for years. We sold hundreds of Cenelec radios to plants all over The Netherlands and continue this success now with Atex-approved radios, but as soon as customers demand Atex we think of Niros, because their models have some advantages over the competition.’
Coenen says Eurotank were looking for an alternative to the VX800 due to the main concern for protection from humidity, and with the equipment always so close to water.
‘Niros has a IP65 rating for the TRX 5104 which is now in use,’ he adds.
This IP code refers to how well the device copes in terms of resistance to dust and water – the higher the code, the better it withstands the elements. So one with an IP65 rating would fair better than one with an IP54.
Another important issue for Eurotank was colour recognition. The waterside radios in use on board a seafaring vessel are coloured blue, with the fireguards at the terminal wearing red ones. Technicians use the ones coloured in black while the dockside operators use green ones.
While this may sound trivial, Coenen, explains its significance to those working in this environment.
‘People can then be recognised by function due to the colours,’ he says. ‘Immediately you see which radio belongs to which department.’
Radios are configured with 3D-movement sensors and man down adapters and Coenen says the two companies have been focusing on delivering other safety features. The fact that the TRX 5104 is fully customisable means it’s intuitive operation can really help save lives.
With the display on the TRX5104 allowing devices to be programmed with names, everybody at Eurotank has their own radio – and this also served to bring repair costs down.
‘People tend to look better after their own equipment,’ adds Coenen.
One of the important things here, as far as Coenen and Eurotank are concerned, is keeping to the timeframes for repairs. And following Niros getting ATEX certificates, the company is now officially approved to do first line repairs and maintenance, even in the field.
Yet, with some alternatives, Coenen says this wasn’t an option.
‘This is not possible with a Motorola or Kenwood Atex radio,’ he adds. ‘Everything is sealed and we can’t service them. Nowadays, repairs are sent back within the week.’
As we speak, Coenen reveals Eurotank has decided to replace its large fleet of around 125 Atex Vertex radios with those from Niros because these have the IP65 classification.
‘The power levels are higher and the radio is still ATEX approved, even without a leather case,’ he adds. ‘With people working with radios around terminals that encounter a lot of humidity, the move just makes sense.’