From analogue to digital two-way radio for Bayer
In Antwerp Belgium, the large Bayer factory with no less than four different factories has been located on one site since 1966. Bayer Agriculture conducts the guest operations of Eastman (producer of additives for car tyres and car glass, among others), Henkel (producer of glue), Bayer Glyphosate and Bayer Packaging (production of herbicide). Four different producers of high-quality additions and products in one area give the mission-critical communication issue a certain complexity. A single, integrated application for speech that is also efficient and reliable was a matter of trial and error in practice to find the best solution. Kim Michel, Technical Assistant CM, supervises all engineers and is in charge of the daily maintenance and management of the radio communication. He was also responsible for the pre-selection of new devices.
Three years ago, it was time to replace the old analogue system and switch to digital. With as many as four control rooms and some 200 two-way radios on site, it was quite an operation. Kim Michel explains: “Because the users were allowed to test themselves, they unanimously chose the Kenwood NEXEDGE NX 330 EX, an ATEX two-way radio that is compulsory in explosive environments. We conducted several tests with different brands, in order to get a good idea of the best connection and communication possibilities. The Kenwood NEXEDGE NX 330 EX is an excellent two-way radio for making the switch to digital. The advantage of the Kenwood two-way radios is that they use less bandwidth, which means that the BIPT licence costs are lower.” With three additional repeaters, the coverage on site and in the office buildings is optimal and they use the multi-site digital IP network. User-friendly speakers have also been installed in the control room ceilings to improve intelligibility for the operators in the control room. The built-in speakers create a more tranquil atmosphere in the control rooms.”
The roll-out and implementation was not a smooth ride. Kim Michel explains: “Especially the intelligibility took some getting used to at the start. The monotonous, metallic sound was especially different compared to the warm sound we were used to from the analogue radios, but a small adjustment in the parameters of the devices quickly remedied that and now you hardly notice any difference. Users also had to learn to speak properly into the mouthpiece at first, but small adjustments have been made there too so now everything works perfectly. As far as that is concerned, Flash’s service could not be better.”
Like many large factory sites, Bayer also has its own company fire brigade on site. “The communication between our own company fire brigade and the professional fire brigade is very good in that respect. We are in direct contact with the professional fire brigade via the Astrid network and we help each other where necessary. The advantage is that if we need the fire brigade, they will already know what is going on through communication. And they also know where to find us when they need our help with major emergencies.”
Technical knowledge and service
Due to the size of the factory, there are three different types of users of the communication system. Kim Michel explains: “We have three different categories, namely, the operators who run the plant 24/7 and are connected to the control rooms, maintenance which is responsible for technical maintenance and the emergency two-way radios to communicate with the emergency services such as the fire brigade. In all these cases, communication is a matter of life and death, and good and direct communication between people is essential. Flash’s technical knowledge and service is superb: one phone call and we get help right away, and the communication is perfect.”
Bayer has a long-term lease with a Total Care Service. As soon as there are any malfunctions, the device is immediately exchanged. The average lifespan of a device is 3 to 5 years and with an eye to the future, we are also interested in possible future trends. Bjorn Pappaert, Flash Private Mobile Networks Senior Account Manager Belgium explains: “We focus on the future in which data exchange will play an increasingly important role. Technicians and operators check defects and malfunctions in the factory, take photos and forward them. This is still happening manually via the computer, which is rather time-consuming. With an ATEX tablet, you can take photos and send them on site so that the workflow is efficiently digitised. However, this means that a private LTE network will eventually have to be rolled out on site. While the investment is more substantial than a standard radio network, the possibilities for making the work process more efficient are future-oriented. This allows us to gradually transition from two-way radios to tablets or smartphones with PTT functionality. The user ultimately wants an all-in-one device that can do everything.”
Full Service and partnership
As soon as breakdowns are reported, the necessary measures are taken to help the customer as quickly as possible so that the operational part is not compromised. Bjorn Pappaert explains: “At Flash, we call this making sure the customer is ‘worry-free’, by not only taking care of your communication equipment but also managing and maintaining the network so that the customer can fully focus on his business processes. Excellent service for customers is paramount. We are there for our customers. As soon as any problem arises, our people immediately rush to the scene. I believe in full service and in a partnership with our customers.”
Bayer is the global market leader in plant protection products and seeds. By combining biology, chemistry and digital tools smartly, they accelerate innovation in agriculture. The products are aimed at making sustainable agriculture possible and protecting them against diseases and pests.
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