A future proof two-way radio system for Shell Netherlands
Thanks to a major upgrade of the TETRA infrastructure, the walkie-talkie system at three Shell sites is completely ready for the future. By linking to the GSM network, the system can be used anywhere in the world and all kinds of new functionalities are possible. Shell is already using two applications, and together with Flash we are investigating which other applications can offer added value.
99.999 percent security
Within its 25-year history, Flash Private Mobile Networks has been working with Shell Netherlands for 24 years. Simone van Putten, general manager and co-founder of Flash, has been the company’s personal account all that time. “Our mission-critical communications provide 99.999 percent security, which is very important to Shell’s refineries and chemical plants. They simply need the guarantee that they can always communicate with, for example, the control rooms, the control room or security,” Van Putten said.
TETRA system upgrade
In the third contract with Shell, signed last summer, it was agreed that Flash will realize a large-scale upgrade of the TETRA walkie-talkie system for the Pernis, Moerdijk and Europoort sites. This will ensure reliability for the coming years; at the same time, new functionalities will be implemented. Flash’s work includes hybridizing the TETRA infrastructures so that smartphones can communicate with walkie-talkies, an additional TETRA site at the Europoort location and supplying new walkie-talkies, mobile phones, base stations and control room solutions.
In addition, Flash Smart Control and Flash Smart Alert have been implemented. Flash Smart Control is a platform that allows all communication systems to be linked and controlled through one clear dashboard. Flash Smart Alert is a mobile application for alerting and monitoring that replaces traditional pagers. Finally, Flash provides management, maintenance and 24/7 support for the walkie-talkie system and other communication solutions.
Smart smartphone functionalities
“We made the radio communication network,” Van Putten explains, “hybrid by linking it to the public GSM network. As a result, the walkie-talkie system now works off sites. Someone equipped with a smartphone can communicate with Shell’s on-site walkie-talkies from anywhere in the world. This can be important, for example, if a responsible person is at home and wants or needs to be involved in an emergency.”
All kinds of smart smartphone functionalities are also now available. Voice, for example, can be combined with text and video messages via a smartphone that can be in direct contact with walkie-talkie users. Employees therefore no longer need to carry both a walkie-talkie and a tablet. Site IT Operations Lead at Shell Johan van Vlimmeren: “What adds a lot for us is the ability to use various user groups and switch between them. Also very nice for our operators is that they can now also work with wireless earphones so they have their hands free.”
‘Biggest challenge was continuity’
Everything that was in the contract has now been realized and is working properly, according to Van Vlimmeren. The biggest challenge in implementation, according to Van Putten, was complete continuity of Shell’s business processes. “Shell had to be affected as little as possible. That is particularly challenging when converting the control rooms, which are used 24/7. Communication must always go on; they can’t just shut down a plant for us. This is something we are fortunately well versed in, we know what it takes and what workarounds we need to provide.”
Currently, the biggest challenge lies in the area of user adoption. “Such a new system has a lot of advantages, but pilots and workshops are needed to ensure that people actually start working more efficiently, faster, more professionally and more confidently. The fact that both parties now have an important role in this is a shift within our cooperation,” Van Putten states. To Shell’s complete satisfaction, says Van Vlimmeren. “We are relieved of this and with Flash it is in good hands. They now also do the issuing of walkie-talkies to users and make sure people know enough about the use and the different applications.”
Gauge for new solutions
The workshops are also intended as dipsticks, Van Putten explains. “We ask employees what challenges they encounter and then investigate whether it can be solved with this kind of system.” Solutions that could be of interest to Shell include a wireless public address system and vehicle alarms via TETRA and Flash Smart Control.
More value-added apps
Shell and Flash are now looking together at what else is possible with the ATEX smartphones. Van Vlimmeren: “For example, there will be a modified version of the Smart Alert app with which we can send messages that are immediately visible according to a kind of NL-alert-like system. And we are working on a people localization system, with which you can see exactly where people are in the event of a spill, for example.”
Shell also sees opportunities in the area of sensors. “Depending on how the technology develops, I can imagine that we will link smartphones with oxygen, CO2 and decibel meters, for example. By taking more measurements, you can create a better living environment on and around the sites. Specifically, by the way, we are already looking at a LoRa system with which information about, for example, vibrations, movements or temperature can be automatically sent to an operator or inspector,” said Van Vlimmeren.
“From customer service and sales to engineers: everyone has the same customer-oriented mindset at Flash.”
‘Thinking along about the future of industry’
The Site IT Operations Lead has been working with Flash for 12 years. “What has been a constant all this time: they are very customer-oriented, always think with you and immediately go looking for you if you have a specific request. From customer service and sales to engineers: everyone has the same customer-oriented mindset. We have a 24-hour service at Flash, if something is wrong they are immediately – and if necessary with several engineers – on site. Even if the problem comes from outside, think of a company next to Shell that is going to use certain frequencies, Flash tackles this immediately.”
In addition to customer focus, Van Vlimmeren also praises Flash’s commitment to the industry. “Because of corona it was on the back burner for a while, but Flash also organizes events for all its customers. There you can exchange knowledge with fellow companies and governments, which is very valuable. Flash also actively shares information itself. Besides the professional attitude and customer orientation, that’s what I like best: that they think along about the future of the industry.”
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