For Safety and Security's Sake

FROM THE JANUARY ISSUE: Camera system technologies are updated continuously, and plants stay up to date to protect personnel and property.
By Lisa Gibson | December 28, 2018

The 12 cameras at Commonwealth Agri-Energy LLC in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, are primarily used to ensure safety of personnel, says Jon Stahl, operations manager. “Safety is on the forefront. That’s what the cameras are designed to do.”

Commonwealth uses both fixed and pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras, providing a view of almost the entire site, at any given time. “That gives us the ability to pretty well survey the entire premises.” That includes priority areas such as loadout and high-traffic spots. “Anywhere we’ve got people on a regular basis doing what seem like mundane tasks to them, that’s when mistakes happen.”

Stephen Dawson, CEO of Solutions Technology Group, says safety joins security and operations efficiency as reasons clients install surveillance equipment.

“In an industry built on efficient staffing, it is critical to have resources that allow us to be many places at once,” says Kenny Wirts, Commonwealth’s plant manager. “Cameras are yet another tool that we use to keep our site safe, secure and efficient.”

Servers and Systems
Solutions Technology Group specializes in network/IP camera systems with ethernet-based open architecture, meaning they’re not limited to a certain number of cameras. “You can continue to grow as you please,” Dawson says.

Expansion ability is crucial, according to Pat Hogan, director of operations for Glacial Lakes Energy LLC, with locations in Mina and Watertown, both in South Dakota. “We’ve found the benefit of cameras and continue to install more,” he says. “Every time something comes up, you say, ‘Man, I wish we had a camera there.’ We usually come back and put another camera in.” Each Glacial Lakes site has about 25 cameras, installed by On Sight 24/7 Video Surveillance, based in Mitchell, South Dakota.

Solutions Technology Group served its first customer in 2009, installing nine cameras. That customer now has more than 100, Dawson says. “As it grew, the backbone of the system was there, the connections and network were there.”

The cameras rely on server-based software, tailored to the specific customer’s needs, Dawson says. The server must be sized appropriately for the number of cameras, resolution, data, memory, etc. New systems with higher resolution are polishing compression technologies. “It allows you to have more data, more videos, more cameras than ever before,” he says. “Video takes a lot of bandwidth. Bandwidth is everything.”

Once the cameras and server are in place, the next step is connecting it all, Dawson says. That can be done with fiber for long connections, standard ethernet for close connections, or wireless point. At Commonwealth, Solutions Technology Group’s only ethanol client, all three are employed. 

That system, like most, includes mobile access as well. “If you have admin rights, you could be sitting at home at night and getting notifications of motion detection, or if you need to look at something at any time, you can sure do that on the remote app,” Dawson says. While remote capabilities are common already, the technologies continue to improve, he adds.

Operations, Security
While Commonwealth’s cameras are predominantly for safety purposes, they also help keep the site secure. “Things have gone missing before,” Stahl says. “With PTZ cameras especially, you can focus on an area at a given time, and if you’ve got some desirable items out in your laydown yard … you can keep a whole lot better eye on them that way than you could if you’re just walking by them three or four times. It’s crazy how much work it can take off you.”

Similarly, cameras keep an eye on operations to ensure efficiency. “Anything that might be a choking point in the plant that might slow us down,” Stahl says of camera placement.

“It’s a lot of technology,” Stahl adds. “It’s crazy how much work it saves you. It shaves some of the workers’ fatigue off your day.”

At Glacial Lakes, cameras free up operators for other duties, Hogan says. “We always used to have to have an operator present when a chemical tanker was unloading. Now we put a camera pointing directly at where the chemical unload is and that can be monitored by the board operator from the control room.”

In addition, the cameras make it easy to know when a trucker arrives. Hogan also points out that the camera footage can be used for incident investigation, and Dawson says cameras in loading and unloading areas can monitor for mistakes in connections or disconnections, preventing damage to equipment.

Both Glacial Lakes sites and Commonwealth have large monitors in the control rooms, displaying 12 or 15 camera views simultaneously. Commonwealth uses smart TVs and has also installed one in the front office. Wirts says, “Having monitors available for the front office is invaluable—locating lost truckers and shipments, seeing if trucks are waiting to be loaded, etc.”

Glacial Lakes also installs monitors in the grain control rooms, and Hogan can view any area of either plant on his own computer monitor at any time.

Upgrades, Advancements
 “If you use the cameras and you have a good system, you see the benefit and then you start installing more and more,” Hogan says. A surveillance system should build as the facility evolves and as new technologies are available, he adds. The size of the site will determine the number of cameras needed. Glacial Lakes’ rail loops add to its figure.

“Our system has gone through quite a few upgrades,” Hogan says. Servers are upgraded for more horsepower and cameras are replaced for new models, he cites. Glacial Lakes is increasingly using more PTZs than stationary cameras. “They’re more expensive, but you get three or four times the benefit.”

Hogan cautions that proper maintenance and use is crucial for the systems to function as intended. “If you maintain the systems, you can get a lot of benefit from them. If you don’t maintain the system, people won’t look at them.”

Stahl says Commonwealth will continue to stay on the forefront of surveillance technology, even considering thermal cameras in the future to detect fire risk. It’s a technology Dawson says is used in other industries Solutions Technology Group serves. “Thermal cameras are becoming the thing where fires are potential hazards,” he says. “We’ve even tied them to fire alarm systems so it can notify someone as soon as possible.” From a maintenance standpoint, it makes sense, Stahl says.

Seeing any area on-site at the click of a button is beneficial for many reasons, Stahl says, but for Commonwealth, safety is paramount. “Given the hazards that come with working at an ethanol plant, it’s a good idea to have as many eyes and ears as you can.”

Author: Lisa Gibson
Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine