Wireless technology improving plant performance

By Kylie Wilson-Field, Journalist
Friday, 17 August, 2007

"For consumers, 'wireless technology' conjures up images of iPods, Blackberrys, cell phones, television remotes and internet Wi-Fi connections. Within industry, telemetry versions of the technology have long connected automation systems at wellheads, platforms, pipeline compressors and the like," says Glen Charge, general manager, Emerson Process Management, Australia and New Zealand.

Charge suggests that process plants have only used wireless for isolated applications where one-off proprietary technology was available for special applications.

"Plants involve a wide variety and thousands of measurement and control points. Wireless technology was not standardised and not available in the breadth of functions required," he says.

"Suppliers to the industry were faced with daunting issues such as reliability, security and long-lasting power. These issues have been resolved with Emerson's Smart Wireless technology, which has been proven in field trials for mainstream use in contiguous plants."

Emerson's self-organising networks employ five levels of security within the network and devices. "Having a fully secure wireless network is absolutely required for plants, but it shouldn't require a specialist to deploy. We've worked very hard to make the security and reliability of our networks almost completely automatic to install and maintain," Charge says.

"This new wireless technology is a step up in the way plants will be able to access data from areas previously unreachable "” either because of the physical or the economic barriers. The innovation frees up the imagination and capabilities of engineers to take plant performance to the next level."

"Emerson's Smart Wireless solutions extend the company's PlantWeb, digital plant architecture, with wireless implementation of existing intelligent devices, host systems and asset management predictive maintenance software to create open, secure standards based on plant-wide networks," Charge says.

"In over three years of trials, customers have seen the immediate impact of being able to cost effectively get new information when and where it is needed. They've experienced this directly with Emerson's new Smart Wireless products, and they are anticipating the soon-to-come wireless add-on modules that will connect valuable diagnostics that are 'stranded' in wired installations of the estimated 20 million installed HART devices."

"The Smart Wireless solution minimises the cost of implementing wireless. No site surveys are required and the wireless network can be quickly and easily set up by any technician familiar with standard HART process instrument set-up."

"Customers have actually reported a 90% savings in installed costs by using wireless. These savings come from wiring conduit, engineering, I/O cards, drawings and installation costs typically needed for wired installations," he says.

According to Jeff Becker, director of wireless solutions at Honeywell Process Solutions, using a wireless transmitter over wired helps avoid US$10-80 per foot.

"For example, a recent tank level application in an ethanol plant installed Honeywell wireless pressure transmitters and not only saved US$230,000, but they improved throughput US$750,000 per year," he says.

"For Honeywell, wireless technology is an enabling technology. It enables applications that make manufacturing more optimised, safer and more reliable."

"We understand there are concerns about security and reliability, so we have built that into the network from the ground up and incorporated an end-to-end security scheme that protects the network and the plant."

"For example, Honeywell uses a WPA2, AES-based device authentication scheme, supports FIPS 140-2 based encryption and employs a frequency hopping spread spectrum communication method," he says, adding that the self-healing mesh network features full redundancy at the sensor and infrastructure level for assured communication.

Honeywell has seen a lot of growth in pharmaceutical applications and increasing use of wireless technology to support compliance and regulations.

"Refineries and large storage facilities are able to use wireless transmitters to measure tank levels with automation instead of manual readings or extrapolated data."

"A manufacturer needs a strategic view of wireless, seeing it as an opportunity to put in the infrastructure that will grow with their requirements," Jeff Becker says.

"As with most emerging technologies, today's market offers proprietary wireless-enabled solutions that tactically solve industrial business needs, but may not meet requirements for the future."

"Key implementation issues that must be addressed include handling multiple types of devices from just a few to thousands, operating in noisy radiofrequency environments, sending data reliably and when needed, predictable power management and solid security."

"To help keep up with the development activity and help users find the best solution for their unique application, several organisations are drafting recommendations or standards as well as offering open solutions."

"There are two standards currently under development: ISA's SP-100 and that of the HART wireless working group. Both standards should complement each other and address different aspects of the wireless technology and implementation," says Charge.

"These standards will be key for enabling widespread adoption of wireless sensor networking technology. Emerson is guaranteeing an easy upgrade path for compliance to the industry standard when it is completed."

At Emerson's PlantWeb University, free online training is provided on new ways to improve project, process and plant performance.

"PlantWeb University has enormous benefits to manufacturers in that they have access to a wealth of information in the form of more than 75 online courses as well as a library of articles and white papers," says Charge.

"The new wireless curriculum provides an introduction to wireless technology, describes how it can help solve common problems and access information that was previously out of economic and technical reach, and delivers practical advice on implementing a wireless solution."

Emerson's Smart Wireless solutions are designed for global use throughout process plants and can be deployed in various process manufacturing segments including oil, gas, chemical, minerals and mining, pulp and paper, and water and wastewater treatment. In addition, the technology can be applied to remote monitoring of oil and gas wellheads, pipeline stations and production platforms.

"We see wireless as the next big revolution in process control," says Charge. "Just as the change from pneumatic and analog to digital architectures has brought many process manufacturing benefits, the ease of use, major cost savings and dramatic benefits of Smart Wireless will take performance to the next level."

"Wireless can enable plants to run more efficiently, safely and cost effectively, producing better quality products and environmental controls. Who doesn't want to achieve that?" he adds.

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