A sad (and potentially dangerous) case of missed connections

By Sara Brown

In a sad case of woulda, coulda, shoulda this week, the New York Times reports a device commonly used (and EPA approved) to detect methane gas leaks and help prevent environmental catastrophes in the oil & gas industry, among others, commonly fails to accurately detect dangerous levels of the gas. Even more interesting, the report is based on claims made by one of the device’s primary patent holders.

The problem is fairly simple—the backpack carried device uses two methane sensors: one to detect lower levels of the toxic gas and another to detect higher concentrations—but when the capacity of the lower detector is reached, the handoff to the higher level detector sometimes fails.

When I read this story, I can’t help but wonder—where’s the Industrial Internet of Things in all this? Imagine a connection that would enable the user to fix a stationary device and continuously monitor methane levels without having to send a technician to the site. More importantly, said connection could communicate failure to operate properly in real time—and help avoid missed readings.

For a company like Bacharach, which has already released a software package to help technicians optimize service calls and which is a leading manufacturer of test and measurement equipment, it seems like a no brainer—so what’s holding them back? Or rather, will this new report spur them into action? With so much value in connecting their devices, it seems a natural step. I certainly hope they won’t keep dragging their feet waiting for regulatory requirements before upgrading this important technology. It’s time to go from woulda, coulda, shoulda to, “We’re on it.”