Over the years, industry has implemented wireless technology with relative degrees of caution, depending on the application. Complaints about wireless' steep learning curve have hindered certain users, applications and plants from using it, as have valid worries about security and concerns about the reliability of devices, such as transmitters that quit for no apparent reason. That said, many users are adopting wireless technology in increasing numbers because it lets them gather signals and data from places where they couldn't get them before. This helps cut costs, improve safety, boost productivity and manage assets better.
Consider the case of Reliance Industries in India. The company was having problems obtaining reliable tank-level and temperature readings at its Baroda GOP olefins plant in Gujarat due to difficulties stemming from retrieving transmitter signals of tank levels and temperatures from the farthest sites in its petrochemical complex. The existing wired setup was remotely located and needed continuous troubleshooting and maintenance.
"Reliance already had a suitable Honeywell distributed control system (DCS), so it installed the company's OneWireless network with solutions such as XYR 6000 wireless transmitters to gain control of data, streamline tasks and improve overall efficiency," says Mahendra Upadhyay, instrumentation manager at the Baroda GOP plant. OneWireless is a standards-based, industrial, wireless mesh network that complies with the ISA100 standard and is intended to extend process control networks to the field, allowing transmission of more information to central locations.
Obtaining temperature and level signals wirelessly from Baroda GOP's remote sites lets Reliance eliminate cable, labor and maintenance costs. In addition, wirelessly monitoring and controlling the tank liquid volume helps ensure data accuracy for planning and scheduling. The implementation also improves employee safety because personnel no longer need to travel to remote locations to monitor tank levels.
The idea in industry is to place similar sensor tags on the factory floor. "So, instead of companies putting expensive custom-built HMIs on a machine, an operator with an iPad can walk up to the machine and use the tablet as a virtual HMI, using short-range communications to the device over Bluetooth LE," says Fahrion. "Or a technician can walk up to a cabinet and doesn't have to open the door to see what the oxygen level or temperature is inside."
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"A real trend has process companies requiring such standards-based approaches to wireless as OneWireless," says Vibhor Tandon of Honeywell Process Solutions in India. "Its compliance with ISA100 Wireless allows it to use a tunneling technology that enables communication of other protocol data over the ISA100 network. For example, users can extract HART data from their wired HART devices using the OneWireless Adapter (OWA) that securely sends the HART data over the ISA100 Wireless network to the HART clients like Honeywell's Field Device Manager (FDM) or Emerson's AMS."
In the future, Tandon says wireless is headed toward developing a protocol for the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as one for a way to handle big data. "However, IoT and other technologies will have to be tailored for the process industry for appropriate adoption," he adds.
Once a wireless technology hits a tipping point in the consumer world, industry adopts the technology and advances it, explains Mike Fahrion, product management director and IoT strategist at B&B Electronics. "A lighter, smaller version of Bluetooth called Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) was recently developed for sensors," he says. "In consumer applications, Bluetooth targeted applications in retail grocery stores placing tiny battery-powered beacons that send out their IDs. Holders of frequent shopper cards can download an app for their smartphones that works with the technology to help users navigate the store and get special offers."
Flexibility Is Key