Snapshot of EMEA Wireless Comes in Focus

Jan. 28, 2009
Industry Adoption of Wireless Technology in Europe, the Middle East and Africa Is Slightly Different From North American Path

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
Monitoring and alerting contribute about 71% across discrete and 32% across process industries because of the requirement for real-time data.
Source: Frost & Sullivan

“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).

“Users are still conservative about wireless,” explains Balasubramaniyam. “Their main concerns revolve around data loss due to interference and vibrations from nearby motors or heavy equipment. The process industries and the discrete industries cannot have a data transmission delay or loss; that would seriously affect their production. While suppliers are working toward improving the reliability and security, users are still a bit skeptical. Because wireless still is a new technology, it’s extremely important for users to witness reliable operation of wireless under actual operating conditions.”

Figure 2: User Requirements vs. Performance
Reliability, security and a common standard see a high variance between users’ requirements (blue) and users’ perceived performance (purple), while coexistence, data rate and range all have low variances.
Source: Frost & Sullivan

While coexistence is a highly rated requirement, wireless technology meets it, according to the research. Data rate and range performance also are adequate, although users ranked the importance of both of these requirements as nominal. The unfilled need for a common standard gives further attention to interoperability as a concern. “Around 83% of users across process and factory automation rate interoperability as a medium-to-high concern,” explains Jawad.. “That’s a critical issue to be aware of. That’s a bit of a showstopper in terms of the growth rate of the market. It’s a real barrier.”

All for One

Open architecture solutions should overcome challenges of interoperability by around 2010, says Jawad. “If you look at similar market models that have come before this, it took Foundation fieldbus and Profinet applications 10-15 years to stabilize while Ethernet only took three years to stabilize as a potential market. We expect an inflection point around 2012 for the wireless market, on the assumption that there will be strategic changes and collaborations. You first have to have a single common unified standard.”

More than 80% of users look for wireless-device compatibility with automation and control solutions, according to the research. But compatibility with the plant IP network, 4-20 mA and fieldbus all rank around 25% or higher.

Figure 3: Interoperability
Users indicate Profibus will be the most common fieldbus with which wireless devices should be compatible.
Source: Frost & Sullivan

“From an EMEA perspective, users are most inclined to Profibus and HART protocols,” explains Jawad (Figure 3). “The number of protocols in the market is the issue that users say has to be addressed.”

Wireless standards and methods differ dramatically between the process and discrete industries, according to the research. While GSM/GPRS and Wi-Fi adoption ranks high across the process industries, Zigbee, Bluetooth and other unlicensed technologies are the most adopted on the discrete side, says Jawad.

Remarkably, SP100.11a and Wireless HART rank very low in adoption level among the EMEA companies that participated in the Frost study.

The Once and Future Wireless

“Despite the available potential for deploying wireless devices, the penetration into the process and factory automation industries in EMEA countries is expected to be challenging and gradual,” predicts Jawad. “There seems to be a clear barrier for adoption of wireless devices more due to the users’ concerns surrounding wireless technology. And although the user concerns are extremely valid, it doen’t indicate that these barriers couldn’t be broken.”

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