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A process of evolution over 60 years of tunnel safety solutions

SICK Sensor Intelligence’s monitoring systems provide conditioning monitoring to boost safety, efficiency and maintenance.

SICK Sensor Intelligence’s range of tunnel monitoring devices play a much more important role than you may think. Lintu Mathai, Senior Market Product Manager – Analyser, Flow and System Solutions, explains how these devices are helping to make a difference.

Air quality can at times be an overlooked, but crucial aspect to tunnel users.

Hazardous gases pose a serious potential risk to the health of both contractors and civilians using the road.

Lintu Mathai, SICK Senior Market Product Manager – Analyser, Flow and System Solutions, says these environments have called for a suitable monitoring solution.

“Most road tunnels, depending on the length and complexity, need to be monitored for emissions, such as nitrogen monoxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide (CO),” Mathai says.

“They also need to be monitored for smoke. These gases and fumes can have serious health risks not only for just motorists, but also the people who are conducting maintenance and work inside these tunnels These devices are important to make sure that tunnels are sufficiently ventilated.

He says that as the density of traffic on roads increases, the future will be about finding ways to increase the availability of tunnels, while at the same time improving safety for road and tunnel users.

“This is where we come in. For over 60 years, SICK has been helping road and tunnel operators to take on this challenge by offering innovative products, not only for measuring visibility and air quality, but also for air flow measurement and smoke detection in emergency situations,” he says.

SICK Sensor Intelligence provides internal and external tunnel monitoring for some of the world’s largest road connections.
SICK Sensor Intelligence provides internal and external tunnel monitoring for some of the world’s largest road connections.

It’s in the air

SICK Sensor Intelligence is a global organisation, responsible for developments in technologies branching into factory automation to logistics automation and process automation. 

The company’s focus on providing technologies that increase safety, while also preventing impacts on the environment has forged a path towards increased automation for tunnel and condition monitoring.

“It’s just a process of evolution,” Mathai says. “Back in the day there weren’t ways to make sure that motorists were safe. I think one of the driving factors would have been the level of pollution.

“If you go back 60 or 70 years, vehicles were polluting a lot more as they were spewing out smoke and gases that weren’t safe for other motorists. Back in the day there were no emission standards and vehicles had powerful motors but no exhaust gas cleaning mechanism. 

“This led to road tunnels with low visibility. Visibility then was used as a general indication of pollution inside the tunnel. Scenarios like this drove SICK to come up with a device that makes it safer for motorists to drive with information on visibility.”

As the first manufacturer, SICK offers standard product families for both routine operation and emergency situations in tunnels.

“Data is captured on aspects like air velocity, visibility, air quality and even if a vehicle has caught fire. Once detected, the traffic is then managed accordingly inside the tunnel, and the tunnel exhaust system is controlled automatically,” he says.

“All of this happens in real time.” 

The VISIC100SF and Vicotec32X series are all-in-one solutions for measuring visibility, carbon monoxide (CO) as well as nitrogen monoxide (NO) or nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in tunnels. The VISIC50SF and Vicotec450 smoke detector is SICK’s reliable and extremely fast solution for early fire detection.

Apart from in-tunnel monitoring, SICK also has devices that are used to make the tunnel safe from unsafe vehicles. 

The HISIC450 is used to reliably detect vehicles that are too high before they enter the tunnel, thereby helping the operator to redirect those vehicles and prevent them from entering the tunnel. 

This helps in protecting the tunnel infrastructure from potential damage that can be caused by such vehicles. 

“We also have VHD Systems for detection of overheated vehicles. So basically, if a vehicle is really overheated, it obviously has the potential to catch fire inside the tunnel. We can detect such vehicles before they enter the tunnel and give that information to the tunnel operator so that those vehicles can be redirected. This again helps in keeping the tunnel safe for users.”

“In an emergency situation, in case a vehicle does catch fire, our solutions are designed to give information to the tunnel operator in terms of the direction in which the smoke is travelling so that tunnel staff can take corrective actions.”

With over 1000 installations, these devices have already been deployed across the globe, in some of the world’s busiest tunnels and motorways.


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SICK Sensor Intelligence’s monitoring systems can analyse information inreal time.
SICK Sensor Intelligence’s monitoring systems can analyse information in
real time.

Real time condition monitoring 

AI Based Real-Time condition-based monitoring of tunnel equipment is another service that is offered by SICK. SICK’s condition monitoring solutions aim to improve the reliability, efficiency, and safety of tunnels by enabling predictive maintenance and early fault detection. 

By continuously monitoring the condition of equipment, potential issues can be identified and addressed before they lead to significant failures or potential operational disruptions.

While also providing the safety benefits of tunnel monitoring, condition monitoring goes a step further to increase the efficiency and cost effectiveness of tunnel maintenance.

“There can be a lot of learning from our installations,” Mathai says. “Condition monitoring contributes significantly to the utilisation of tunnels. Intelligent remote diagnostic features can improve the planning and maintenance or scheduling of service tasks.”

Condition monitoring from SICK provides an effective solution for monitoring and maintaining devices and sensors in tunnels. Device and sensor states can be monitored in real time, and undesired operational states predicted ahead of time.

If required, every significant change to the device states is visualized concisely and clearly in a browser-based dashboard, thereby enabling the operating staff to intervene in a timely manner. 

This ensures the availability of critical device components.

“It reduces the number of service interventions and allows for better and more efficient preparation for necessary service deployments,” Mathai says.

“For a tunnel in the Netherlands, our condition monitoring has enabled them to reduce their unplanned service intervention by as much as 70 per cent. For maintenance and the operating cost of a tunnel – that’s a huge cost saving.”

All this data is also kept secured, thanks to SICK’s Data Security Policy.

“We take Cyber Security very seriously and we prefer to be safe than sorry when it comes to Cyber Security,” Mathai says.

“We have commissioned SICK Product and Security Incident Response Team (SICK PSIRT), who manage all cyber security threats for SICK products and services. The SICK PSIRT manages the inspection, internal coordination and disclosure of Cyber Security vulnerabilities.”

“Before commissioning a project, we sit with the PSIRT team, and go through all aspects of Cyber Security Vulnerabilities and implement safeguards. 

“We make sure that both parties are more than comfortable.”

SICK’s sensor intelligence devices are available now. 

This article was originally published in the July edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.

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