CCTV – More Than Just a Pretty Picture
Published on : Tuesday 31-10-2023
Brian Taylor charts the evolution of CCTV in hazardous and industrial applications and considers where the technology is headed next.
Since its inception, CCTV technology has proven its worth in hazardous and industrial environments by helping fallible humans to monitor reliably and consistently 24/7. Sometimes the application is for safety purposes: there are obvious benefits in ensuring only authorised personnel can gain access to potentially dangerous machinery or chemicals, for example. Other times, remote CCTV cameras are invaluable in monitoring processes in hazardous environments which are hostile or largely inaccessible to humans. Examples include remote pipelines, unmanned offshore platforms and locations that involve extreme temperatures, from -60degC to +70degC.
The advent of digital technology at the beginning of the 21st century set a new baseline for basic functionality – improved image clarity, zoom capability, operational ease and remote surveillance. These fundamentals of a high-performing surveillance system continue to progress and now, combined with added ‘smart’ functionality, workers and processes are safer than ever.
Digitalisation has prompted rapid developments in increased CCTV functionality. In addition to fixed cameras, users can now opt for CCTV systems with tilt, panning and zoom capabilities at magnifications (x20, x30) that were previously unknown. These functional developments significantly improve the ability to track, monitor and respond to potential safety or process incidents, while high definition (HD), full HD, and 4K resolutions allow better definition than ever before.
Even the challenge of low light levels has been overcome. WDR technology has improved the ability of CCTV cameras to capture clear images in challenging lighting conditions and smart IR solutions allow image capture even in complete darkness – crucial for 24/7 surveillance. Eaton offers a Smart IR optical camera in which the light beam will mimic the zoom function to ensure the illumination is focused on the same object or area. In addition to maintaining high quality monitoring, night vision enables the extension of reliable CCTV coverage into largely unlit industrial areas, such as warehouses and silo storage facilities, where monitoring was previously not possible.
The recent advent of combined optical and thermal cameras means that CCTV is also capable of environmental monitoring, with cameras being used to measure the temperature of vessels, machinery and conveyors. This means CCTV is used increasingly as an integral part of quality control, traceability and predictive maintenance regimes.
Smart and AI features include facial recognition, object detection, and behavioral analysis to enable more proactive and intelligent surveillance.
Cameras equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) and smart features use visual data to trigger a desired response. Cross line detection and person counting are just two examples, both of which have important roles in ensuring safe working. The first may raise an alert if a person or vehicle enters a restricted, virtually-defined zone. The latter may be used to prevent too many people entering a defined area, or to ensure an area is clear of all personnel.
Better image clarity and improvements in motion detection mean that digital CCTV is able to differentiate between vehicles, people, animals and trees – improving accuracy and reducing false alarms.
Indeed, the technology can provide sophisticated decision-making, based on digital data. ‘Person down’ functionality has the intelligence to discern between someone working close to the ground as opposed to someone ‘overall not moving’ and trigger an alarm for the viewer to verify and send out a responder service. This function can also work in tandem with crowd detection, where people may gather around a casualty.
In other words, CCTV functionality has moved from passive monitoring to providing high quality, real-time data which enables smarter working: increasing efficiency in problem/incident solving and improving security and safety in the workplace.
Connectivity and data advancements
For users who have already invested in analogue CCTV for their hazardous or industrial application, the cost and downtime involved in swapping out an entire analogue system in order to reap the benefits of digital technology can be prohibitive. Cabling is the central issue, because it is both expensive and disruptive to replace standalone systems based on Coax with the CAT5/CAT6 digital cables that are essential for full networking and IP based CCTV systems.
Eaton was quick to realise the need for a transitional technology to resolve this dilemma. Its solution – Ethernet over Coax (EoC) –allows IP data to be transmitted across existing analogue cabling up to 20km.
Once the most suitable solution for data transmission is established, the management and protection of that data becomes a primary concern.
With H.265 and H.265+ compression standards, storage and bandwidth requirements of CCTV camera systems have decreased.
Compliance with data protection regulations and cybersecurity are of paramount importance. Cameras can now be integrated into Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystems and cloud-based platforms. While that allows for remote access, storage, and management of video footage from anywhere with an internet connection, cybersecurity measures need to robustly protect that footage, and continuously evolve to stay ahead of new threats.
Where next: materials technology and innovation
In order to keep pace with the demands of modern industrial environments, industrial CCTV equipment has to be able to withstand extremely harsh operating conditions and function reliably with minimal maintenance, particularly when being used in hazardous locations or on remote or difficult-to-access sites. The increasing reliance on CCTV data for continuous monitoring, process control and safety means that the technology has to be able to survive for longer, with less intervention.
Innovations in materials technology are providing the answer. Composite materials offer several potential benefits: particularly around corrosion resistance and attractive strength-to-weight ratios, when compared to traditional metal housings. The price of composite materials also compares favorably with 316 stainless steels. These attributes are particularly desirable in applications such as offshore platforms and industrial complexes where margins are tight, space is at a premium and the constant presence of salt spray or other corrosive substances can shorten operational life.
Eaton has already developed its own GRP composite material for such environments, which has been successfully applied on beacons, sounders and call points in hazardous area communications systems for more than 30 years. Using this proven material, Eaton has become the first manufacturer to develop a range of Ex-rated GRP Cameras for hazardous and harsh industrial environments.
The introduction of the lightweight and durable GRP range begins with the fixed (XFG) camera. The use of GRP housings offers end-users significant improvements in lifetime performance compared to aluminum alternatives, as well as reduced transportation, operating and maintenance costs. With space, cost and weight continuing to drive product choices, it is likely that GRP cameras will soon become the product of choice for hazardous and harsh industrial applications.
Industrial CCTV technology continues to evolve rapidly. Where the emphasis has been on digitalisation and the additional functionality it offers, focus is now shifting to the practical challenges being faced by industrial users and how CCTV can contribute positively to optimising production and driving down TCO.
The hazardous area communications team at Eaton continues to innovate and provide timely solutions which benefit customers seeking cost-effective CCTV systems for industrial and hazardous applications.
Brian Taylor is a specialist in Hazardous Area Communications at Eaton.