By Mike Bacidore, Managing Editor
Unlike in the U.S., adoption of wireless technology is more common in discrete manufacturing industries than process in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to data from global research firm Frost & Sullivan.
“Europe has a much larger machine-builder environment, while North America has more process and less discrete in comparison to the EU,” says Karthikeyan Balasubramaniyam, senior research analyst for industrial automation and process control group at Frost & Sullivan. “Hence, there’s a trend of discrete having more adoption of wireless in Europe than process industries. However, this is just the current trend. In the future, process is going to overtake discrete in adoption of wireless even in Europe.”
Wireless technology is changing the way the process and discrete manufacturing industries all over the world are operating. But many users of wireless applications in EMEA have expressed concern regarding specific areas related to the implementation and usage of wireless devices including data security, reliability, cost and issues with data transmission, says Iain Jawad, practice director for industrial automation & process control, Europe, at Frost & Sullivan.
“Amidst the conservatism displayed by end users, there have been some installations of wireless devices, and interesting results have been achieved,” says Jawad of the findings based on research conducted between September 2007 and August 2008 covering around 450 users, suppliers, system integrators, engineering procurement and construction (EPC) representatives and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), as well as collated data from a variety of other sources.
Primary wireless adopters on the discrete side include the automotive and food and beverage industries, while water and wastewater, oil and gas and refining lead the vertical market segments on the process side, the research indicates. Material handling is the top wireless application throughout all EMEA industries at 42%. Robotics (31%) and packaging (27%) account for the bulk of the remaining applications.
“Key drivers of wireless technology include the need for real-time data and the increasing need for remote monitoring,” explains Jawad. Ease of installation and commissioning, reduction in cabling cost, workforce mobility and flexibility, measurements in inaccessible areas or moving parts and the need for more valuable information to increase plant efficiency rounded out the list of conditions driving wireless adoption.
Figure 1: Preferred Applications
“There are fundamental concerns expressed about reliability and security,” says Jawad. Still, Frost & Sullivan reports total global revenue from wireless hardware, software and services in 2008 at $845 million. Discrete adoption is driven primarily by demand for short-range devices such as sensors, actuators, transmitters, repeaters and coordinators used in monitoring and alerting applications. Long-distance telemetry devices, including radio-based devices and GSM/GPRS modems, used for remote monitoring applications, often communicating between multiple sites, drive current adoption in process automation (Figure 1). “The market is yet to witness a technology that has the market-winning formulation of high data throughput, low power consumption and extended range,” says Jawad.
While wireless applications for monitoring and alerting and telemetry are strong drivers, the use of wireless technology for critical or even less-critical control is significantly less. “There’s a strong hesitancy in adoption of wireless for anything to do with control,” says Jawad.
“It is difficult to quantify the growth of wireless in critical and less critical control,” explains Balasubramaniyam. “The majority of wireless usage still is restricted to just monitoring and limited in control. A significant uptick of wireless technology in critical or less-critical control is not expected in the next three to four years for sure. The market as whole still is in a nascent stage.”
How Does Your Wireless Grow?
While the research predicts a 13.5% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for wireless revenues from discrete applications over the 2008-2012 period, process industries will experience CAGR about double that of discrete. Cost-benefit ratio and process efficiency are the top parameters on which future investment in wireless hardware, software and services will be based, according to the data.
“If you look at purchasing criteria,” explains Jawad, “it’s an interesting picture. There are similarities between discrete and process industries. Both weigh product quality, cost advantage, services and support and application knowledge or expertise very heavily. But neither ranked a supplier’s global presence or product portfolio as important criteria. And because wireless is a complex solution, that means the purchasing decision often is made jointly between engineering, IT and purchasing.”
Most users need a bit more assurance about vendors’ initiatives to address concerns and gain users’ confidence. Solving technical issues and offering product tests and trials were key steps users in both process and discrete industries would like to see vendors take before they would make a bigger leap into adoption of wireless solutions, according to the research data. Significant discrepancies also were seen between user requirements and their perception of actual performance in reliability, security and a common standard (Figure 2).