Ehstoday 2729 Docking Stations Inetcontrol

Why All Gas Detection Docking Stations are Not Created Equal

Sept. 28, 2016
When it comes to keeping employees safe, gas detectors must be in compliance with company policies and manufacturers' recommendations.

You sit staring down at your desk in utter disbelief of the results of your last gas detection safety audit. You look up and notice it is 7 p.m. You should have been home hours ago enjoying a dinner with your family, but not tonight. You will need to have answers for why you did so poorly on this audit.

You dig deeper and notice the biggest finding was instruments out of date for bump test or calibration. It goes on and lists lack of record keeping and alarm records as a major reason for failing this audit. What do you do now?

Scenarios like the one above occur throughout all companies and safety departments all over the world. People responsible for worker safety recognize there are three gas detection facts that exist:

  1. Fact – People who work in environments where gas hazards are standard run the risk of serious injury or death if not properly protected.
  2. Fact – Gas detectors play an instrumental role in worker safety by providing early warning and measuring gas exposures.
  3. Fact – To provide accurate performance and results, gas detectors have to be properly used and maintained.

It is the third fact that many people responsible for worker safety grapple with the most. How do they ensure that gas detection instruments are properly maintained?  How do they ensure that all instruments have been bump tested and are in compliance with company policies or manufacturers' recommendations? It is because of these concerns that many people ask themselves the question, "Do I need an automated bump test and calibration solution?"

A research survey of 1200+ gas detection users covering over 30 different industries was conducted and found that of these respondents, 25.7 percent do not have an automated solution for bump testing and calibrations. The top three reasons for not having this solution are as follows:

  1. 27.3 percent — Prefer to manually bump test and calibrate their gas detectors
  2. 25.98 percent — Have no knowledge that an automated solution exists
  3. 20.11 percent — Believe that automated solutions are too expensive

These gas detection users are left to manually comply with company bump test and calibration policies or manufacturers' recommendations. This manual process requires the following:

  • Collection of calibration gas, regulator, calibration adaptor, tubing and the detector.
  • Technical expertise to perform a proper bump test or calibration.
  • Proper documentation and record-keeping of the bump test or calibration.
  • Scheduling the next bump test or calibration.

Manual processes can lead to mistakes, causing even the most well-intentioned gas detection program to fail. People doing this manually must ask themselves:

  • Do I have all the equipment necessary to perform a proper bump test or calibration?
  • Has the user doing the bump test and calibration properly been trained?
  • Will I have the proper documentation for the next safety audit?
  • Can I ensure that the bump test and calibration will occur on a regular schedule?

It is for these reasons that an automated bump test and calibration solution has existed since the latter part of the 1990s. But, with such a wide variety, it can be difficult to choose the right solution for you.

There generally are three different types of automated bump test and calibration solutions. Selecting a solution depends on the functionality that is needed to maintain your gas detection fleet. These three types include calibration stations, docking stations and cloud-connected docking stations.

Calibration Station

This is the most basic of all automated bump test and calibration solutions. Calibration stations typically are  capable of automated bump tests, automated calibrations, battery charging and data log download. Typically, the bump test and calibration are done at the push of a button.  Pressing either a bump button or a calibration button will cause that corresponding activity to occur. Upon completion of the bump test, calibration or data log download, the records may be available via one of the following:

USB flash drive – The flash drive allows for the storage of all bump tests, calibration and data log records. These recorded files can then be transferred to a PC for long-term storage and analysis.  

Connected printer – When connected, a printer can provide all bump test and calibration records automatically printed out for record keeping.

PC connection – When connected to a PC, all records are transferred to a PC for long-term storage and analysis.  

Docking Station

A docking station is a complete instrument management system that significantly reduces time by performing instrument bump tests, calibrations, data log download and record keeping at a preferred schedule. It provides easy access to accurate records located on a company server or local PC. The most differentiated feature of a docking station over a calibration station is the docking station's ability to perform these events on a user-predefined schedule versus the calibration station, which is performed with a button push. This provides users the ability to set the calibration or bump test to occur before they come in to work. Because the scheduled event was done prior to arrival at work, this reduces wait time at the docking station. Docking stations allow for the collection of all instrument records on a centralized network providing a complete fleet management solution.

Cloud-connected Docking Station

A cloud-connected docking station allows for effortless managing of your fleet, accessing employee exposure and maintenance reports from anywhere from any web-enabled PC or mobile device. With this solution, all records are uploaded to the cloud with all data securely hosted on the manufacturer's server. The user can then access all records through the manufacturer's web portal. This eliminates the need for a customer being responsible for data storage yet all data is available anytime they need.  

Let's look at a side-by-side comparison between a calibration station, docking station and cloud-connected docking station. As you can see, there are many differences between these three solutions and your selection is dependent on what level of functionality you require.

Record storage — This is the place where all bump tests, calibrations and data logged information will be stored. Calibration stations typically offer the ability to store your records on a USB or PC, whereas docking stations provide the ability to download to a server. The cloud-connected docking station allows records to be hosted on the manufacturer's server with records available through any web-enabled device.

Bump and cal — Short for bump test (a test to ensure gas detector's functionality) and calibration (sets the accuracy of the gas detector). Regardless of the solution you choose, all three can perform accurate bump tests and calibrations.

Print Certifications — This is the station's ability to directly print a bump test and calibration certificate through a connected printer. This is a common feature of many calibration stations, docking stations and cloud-connected docking stations.

Fleet management — Allows you to manage your company's policies around equipment, people and hazards. This type of higher-level functionality is reserved for docking stations and cloud-connected docking stations because of the ability to centralize records on a local company server or through a cloud connection back to the manufacturer's server.

Event scheduling — Allows the user to set the time and date for the completion of bump tests, calibration and data log downloading. Because calibration stations require a push of a button to start an operation, docking stations and cloud-connected docking stations can have these operations start at a time and date of the user's choosing.
Email alerts — Generates instrument alarm notifications that can be emailed to a user or a group of users. This type of functionality typically requires a server connection and therefore is not normally available on a calibration station platform.

Auto software updates — Automatically updates gas detector and station software at a time of the user's choosing. This is a function normally reserved for cloud-connected docking stations only. Since the cloud-connected docking station is communicating with the manufacturer's server, software upgrades can be pushed out to the customer for them to schedule.

Auto cal gas replenishment — Monitors and orders replacement gas cylinders when you need them. This too is a cloud-connected docking station feature only because the calibration gas levels and expiration date need to be monitored. This feature ultimately ensures that you are never without calibration gas.  

Price — Calibration stations tend to be the most economical choice because of their simplicity.  Docking stations tend to be the most costly due to the proprietary software that is provided with the stations. Because cloud-connected docking stations have no software, they can provide service for at a lower price than a traditional docking station.

As you can see, there are many different solutions for automating your bump tests and calibrations. Consider what you need the station to do, your fleet size and level of service you need before making your investment. Regardless of the option you choose, these automated solutions can go a long way in ensuring the success of your gas detection program.  

Brad Day serves as product manager, instrumentation at Industrial Scientific Corp.

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