In the heart of Staffordshire, England, the immense coal-fired power station at Rugeley dominates the countryside. Operated by GDF SUEZ, Rugeley Power Ltd generates approximately 1,000 megawatts of safe, low-cost electricity, which is fed into the UK’s National Grid system and is enough to meet the needs of approximately half a million homes.
Operating since 1970, the Rugeley B power station site covers a large, 2.5km-long area divided between the main site and the Flue Gas Desulphurisation area (FGD) where sulphur dioxide emissions generated by the coal-fired boiler are safely converted into useful calcium sulphite.
The main site, with large steelworks and subterranean areas, creates a challenging communications environment, but the proliferation of reinforced concrete and girder work in the FGD meant there had been little or no radio coverage on the analogue system in this particular area.
While reception in the main site was generally good, coverage in underground areas and on the periphery of the site could also be marginal. This not only had serious implications for perimeter security, it was a major cause for concern for the safety of the 200 workers operating on the main site – and especially those workers passing through or operating in the FGD.
With radios being used for the running of day-to-day operations and emergency scenarios, the analogue radio dead spots around the site were seen as a major safety issue both to plant and to personnel. In particular, the complete lack of coverage in the FGD was not only potentially dangerous, it was hindering operations at the plant and was also impacting the bottom line.
Brian Allt, maintenance engineer technical support, Rugeley Power, explains that: ‘Several solutions were tried, including leaky feed and introducing cell enhancers, but these either did not work, or had very limited effect on the problem. After some investigation it was decided that a new digital radio system would be the best way forward.’
In 2014, after a competitive tender process, Rugeley Power appointed Motorola Solutions partner and two-way radio communication products and applications specialists DCRS. ‘With underground facilities and complex surface structure, this was not the easiest of installations, but a good challenge to have,’ says Daniel Scotney, sales manager with DCRS.
‘We also found the analogue radios to be old and in need of an overhaul. We had conversations about the project beforehand and knew what would be required, so the first phase was to install a multi-site IP solution, which was completed within a rapid timeframe.’
DCRS proposed a MOTOTRBO Linked Capacity Plus radio system from Motorola Solutions. This is a cost-effective, scalable, wide area digital trunking solution, which expands the capacity of a MOTOTRBO communication system without having to add new frequencies.
With advanced repeater software, Linked Capacity Plus enables workers to talk to each other in the field or back at the office, as well as using data applications such as text messaging.
In addition to delivering five times the capacity of the old analogue system, Linked Capacity Plus offered Rugeley Power the option to deliver system-wide calling, enabling communication with all personnel across the site at the same time.
DCRS installed four DR 3000 MOTOTRBO repeaters in Linked Capacity Plus mode with eight voice channels in the main site.
Operating on a continuous basis, the DR 3000 delivers increased capacity and spectrum efficiency to enable enhanced voice and data communications in the most challenging communications environments. In the FGD, where radio use is not so heavy, a further two repeaters with four voice channels were installed. This now gave 100% coverage where before there had been none.
DCRS also supplied the MOTOTRBO radios for the new system. The control room was equipped with DM4600 mobile radios, and 153 DP4601 portable display radios were distributed to the site’s personnel. A further 35 DP4801 portable display radios with full keypad provided senior personnel with the option to easily send or reply to text messages.
‘We felt that everyone should have a radio. This was a safety decision,’ says Brian Allt. The DP4601 and DP4801 portable radios deliver unrivalled voice and data communications with Intelligent Audio that automatically adjusts call volume to counter the noisy working environments around the plant, and the option for managers or the control room to interrupt all transmissions in an emergency, making employee interaction smarter and safer.
All the radios also have a special pre-programmed emergency channel, which opens on every radio across the site. Radios are also issued with a lone worker timer that automatically activates a pre-alarm every 30 minutes. After this period, if the worker does not react to the alarm within 60 seconds, an alert is sent to the main control room and a channel opened to the radio.
The emergency button on the top of the handset is also programmed to alert the control room and let them know who is in potential distress. The radio’s display also provides incoming caller ID and indicates when the emergency channel has been opened so workers know immediately when a call is potentially serious.
The long-term problems caused by old equipment and poor coverage were the driving factor for choosing a new feature-rich radio system that offered one-to-one calling, emergency calling, transmit interrupt and lone worker protection. With the coverage ‘grey and black spots’ resolved across the site, the reaction from the workers has been extremely positive.
Alongside improved operations and security, it is the enhanced safety that has been the ultimate benefit, says Rugeley’s Brian Allt. ‘The MOTOTRBO system ticks a lot of the boxes for worker safety within the plant. Personnel now have instant communication with anyone if they need help. Before, we had to rely on phones, but these could be 100m away.’
Rugeley Power has completed the first stage in a process of communications enhancement, and is already considering additional integrated features to further enhance operations and safety without needing to apply for extra channels on the site’s existing licence. ‘The fact that we could expand the system was something that helped with the decision to go digital,’ concludes Brian Allt.