Sepura's safe solution for Shell site

By Jonathan Nally
Monday, 25 February, 2019

Sepura's safe solution for Shell site

When Shell needed an intrinsically safe system for its largest APAC petrochemical production and export centre, it chose a Sepura TETRA solution.

Shell’s Pulau Bukom Manufacturing Site is an integrated oil and petrochemicals site with manufacturing facilities for fuels, lubricant-based oils and speciality chemicals, located on an island 5.5 km south-west of Singapore. The island is one of a group that has been identified by the Singapore Government for petrochemical manufacturing.

Bukom has a crude distillation capacity of around 500,000 barrels per day. At 243 ha, it is Shell’s largest wholly owned refinery globally and its largest petrochemical production and export centre in the Asia–Pacific region.

Shell had a need to replace the site’s analog radio network with a new, state-of-the-art system to improve security, coverage and connectivity. The solution would have to provide:

  • improved coverage and capacity
  • improved audio quality
  • secure communications
  • intrinsically safe hand portables
  • up to 2000 devices/terminals for use across the network
  • maintenance management and service support for 10 years
  • integration with other critical applications.

Sepura was successful in winning the contract to implement a new intrinsically safe TETRA communications system for the client, with a system that comprises:

  • two base stations
  • five desktop radios
  • 80 fixed radios
  • 1000 hand-portable ATEX-certified radios.

“As well as suffering degradation from age, the [client’s old analog] system was not intrinsically safe, and did not have the significant operational advantages of TETRA in terms of reliability, redundancy, data capability, integration with existing systems and so on,” said Terence Ledger, Sepura’s Sales and Marketing Director.

“The tender was issued in late 2014, so this was a long process with a complicated technical brief that took considerable investment to plan and then implement. There was a competitive response to the tender and the end user wanted to be sure that the chosen solution was fully compliant and best answered their needs,” said Ledger.

“The customer also had to consider various financing models, as well as the switch in technology to TETRA from their previous analog system,” added Ledger. “All these factors contributed to the final award decision taking 12 months before solution planning and implementation could be started. As the tender involved a managed service as well, there were significant discussions with bidders around this element of the proposed new solution.”

The equipment selected was the reduced-keypad STP8X100 hand portable, while vehicles and offices were fitted with SRG3900 mobile and desktop radios. One of the key factors affecting this choice was that the STP8X100 has a dedicated button for quick responses in an emergency, ensuring that staff have a 24/7 safety mechanism.

To support the client’s Movement Control Room (MCR), which manages the loading and unloading of products from ships, the radios are integrated with the instrumentation system. This gives those in control of loading the ships the option to command a quick ‘pump trip’ function using their radios, to shut down the pumps in the case of an emergency.


Oil refineries present a difficult technical challenge for a number of reasons, such as the size of the site (usually very large) and the ways in which radio frequencies interact with metal. Black spots are a particular concern, so communications solutions have to ensure that these are minimised.

Some of the buildings on the Shell site are blastproof, reinforced with thick steel and concrete walls and defence structures. “On these buildings we used passive antennas to ensure signal was received both inside and outside across the site,” said Ledger.

“It also needs to be remembered that the site is an island,” added Ledger. “Whilst it is relatively easy to move people via the regular ferry crossing, equipment has to be pre-booked on freight movements to the island. These logistical challenges have to be carefully planned to ensure that the right equipment is in the right place at the right time, and is properly accounted for.”

A hand holding a two-way radio with equipment in the background

Flexibility is the name of the game, too. During installation of the TETRA infrastructure, it was realised that there was a very large, four-storey steel piping structure in front of one of the sites earmarked for a base station. So the station had to be moved to another location to ensure that communications were fully functional, but as this was also in the middle of the intrinsically safe area it meant that there were limited options to achieve this. Nevertheless, the problem was overcome

Another challenge is that the largest ships do not dock directly at the site, but instead dock 5 km offshore and load and unload from an underground pipeline. Radio coverage therefore needed to reach this fuelling point, without frequency spill into other systems in Singapore and neighbouring countries.

Because of the critical nature of the site, Sepura arranged a managed service agreement with Shell. Radio specialists are permanently on site and 24/7 support is in place should issues occur (so far there have not been any emergency issues with the network). Remote monitoring manages risk and monitors system status. And preventive maintenance is carried out quarterly to ensure that system health is maintained, by pre-emptively arresting issues before they happen.

What is it about TETRA that made it the most suitable radio standard for this contract? “TETRA offers the end user a secure, robust solution, proven in hazardous environments,” said Ledger. “It has a number of core benefits that enhance safety and site operations — a range of intrinsically safe terminals and accessories, multiple talk groups, voice-recording capability, data functionality and the ability to be scaled up or to have functionality enhanced when the customer requires. The system is currently handling an average of 7500 calls per day, but capacity could easily be increased if required.

“We were able to integrate the radio solution with a number of existing systems, ensuring cost efficiencies. For example, ship captains can operate the ship’s refuelling system through their TETRA radio, ensuring they have an emergency stop on the fuel pump if this is required,” he added.

The TETRA system can also interface with both analog radio systems and the Singapore marine channel, reducing the risk of critical messages not being received.

The TETRA system in Bukom is also integrated with the PABX system to enable mobile and telephony calls to be connected to TETRA radio users, and, in the opposite direction, TETRA radios can make calls over the telephone network. The solution is flexible enough to enable users to determine who can be offered this functionality, so that the limited bandwidth usage can be controlled.

“The success of this project and long-term partnership with Shell proves our ability to provide our customers with the best possible TETRA solution to meet their needs, working closely with them to meet their requirements,” said Ledger. “The new network has delivered safety, efficiency and future capabilities to Shell, and we look forward to developing their system further.”

“Working closely with the Shell stakeholders and building rapport with user’s focal points was the key success factor to ensure that the delivery could proceed,” added Peter Tan, Project Manager, Sepura. “In the maintenance phase, these relationships help provide a smooth transition process from the old to the new system, helping to ensure that issues and concerns are raised to the maintenance team for remediation as soon as possible.”

Images courtesy Sepura

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