Wireless widens the view
Wireless Widens the View
A wider window into the plant is now possible as previously difficult-toaccess field data becomes easier to collect and transmit with the latest
wireless technology. By Jonas Berge.
he practical and economical barriers
to collecting more information from
the plant floor and surrounding areas
have been dramatically lowered by the
emergence of reliable wireless field communications
systems. The technology of transmitting information
from stand-alone instruments can be put to use today,
even in plants with legacy control systems.
Information that was previously difficult or
impossible to access in the past is now easily collected
and transmitted from wireless devices to the plant
control system. As a result, incremental asset health
and process status data is delivered quickly and
continuously to the right individuals, producing:
• Improvements in asset maintenance
• Greater equipment reliability
• Reductions in plant downtime
• Improved process control
• Better safety
• More certain compliance with environmental regulations
• Lower installation cost than most hard-wired
systems can deliver
The most advanced of these wireless systems
coexist with, and complement, other wireless
networks operating in the typical plant environment.
September 2008
For example, existing IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi broadband
wireless Ethernet and TCP/IP standards are already
built into thousands of products used in and around
industrial plants.
Using industrial-grade Wi-Fi infrastructure, new
solutions can be found, and new work practices
can be adopted. Workers in the field easily access
desktop applications and perform tasks from a tablet
PC – including viewing and responding to alarms,
observing the process, and retrieving work orders.
The personal communications methods enable
workers to be more productive in checking on
equipment while away from the control room.
Challenge of change
Control requirements and circumstances change
over time, which calls for existing control systems to
change and/or assimilate much more information
than may have been required originally.
For instance, new or more stringent regulations
for Health, Safety, and the Environment (HSE) are
now enforced in many countries. This may require
continuous monitoring of safety showers around
the plant so that help can be dispatched if needed.
Likewise, there may be a need to know the status
of manually operated valves to be sure they are in
the correct position to avoid accidents due to false
assumptions. And safety relief valves may need to be
monitored to detect venting.
Manpower reductions or the need
for more frequent updates may make it
impossible to rely on operators walking
the plant floor with a clipboard to take
visual readings. Or it may be desirable to
reduce manual measurements in the field
where there is possibility of error or risk of
personal injury.
To reduce downtime, it may also be wise
to continuously monitor assets like pumps
and motors for leading indicators of wearand-tear versus periodic manual checks.
All of these things can be accomplished
with field instrumentation reporting to
the control room. However, installing
wired transmitters to perform new functions
is usually phenomenally expensive. In many
cases, plants have run out of spare signal
wire pairs, spare tray space, spare DCS I/O
points, and adding them is not easy. Even
in new plants, there are many
remote locations that cannot
be reached economically with
wire or cable.
Furthermore, the need
to resolve problems faster
requires more information
be delivered to the control
room regarding plant-level
functions. Consequently,
thousands of plants will be
relying on new wireless
infrastructures to address
these challenges and more.
Out in the field, the self-organizing ability of wireless
Interestingly, in many
mesh networks, such as used in WirelessHart, moves
applications, it is about
into action when an established signal path is blocked. replacing non-wired devices
with wireless. For example,
pressure and temperature gauges, variable area flow meters, and level sight glasses that are
not wired to any system and must be read manually no matter where they are installed can
now be connected wirelessly.
Wireless plant systems are already delivering impressive business results, including new
solutions to problems and fast deployment. Table 1 (overleaf) summarizes some of the latest,
innovative wireless solutions being deployed by users.
Hart makes a start
While wireless transmitters are relatively new, a standard covering their manufacture and
use is already in effect. WirelessHart is an all-digital wireless protocol that was approved as
a controls industry standard in 2007. This assures that companies wanting to incorporate
wireless technology won’t have to rely on a limited number of products provided by a single
manufacturer. Devices from several suppliers can work together easily because they are built
to this standard.
WirelessHart transmitters utilize the IEEE 802.15.4 standard ensuring it can coexist and
share the same airspace as Wi-Fi. The same IEC 61158 application layer as for wired Hart
devices is used on top of this, ensuring easy integration with existing device management
It is worth noting here that IEEE 802.15.4 is often used synonymously with ZigBee but
this is incorrect. ZigBee is just one of several network and application layer protocols using
IEEE 802.15.4 physical layer and data link layer protocols. WirelessHart uses IEEE 802.15.4
but is different from ZigBee. Bluetooth is IEEE 802.15.1 and is not used by wireless field
networks because it requires more power than ZigBee, operates over short distances and
has no mesh topology.
Devices adhering to WirelessHart standard are capable of supporting any kind of sensor,
so they will work with nearly any industrial application, whether for control or monitoring,
just like all Hart products do today. A number of leading manufacturers have announced
they will supply transmitters and gateways meeting the WirelessHart standard.
Infrastructure decisions
Whether wireless is deployed in a new plant or an old one being updated, the wireless
infrastructure can remain in place for many years, so making a decision about wireless is
very important, much like deciding on a control system. Reliability and security are the main
considerations for an industrial wireless network, and both are addressed by WirelessHart.
A unique characteristic of WirelessHart is the self-organizing mesh-based network that
provides transmission reliability by dynamically routing messages around signal obstructions
as they occur. It is capable of “working around” communications problems that frequently
occur in a plant, so it cannot be impacted by them. The protocol always includes “status and
value” data in addition to any kind of configuration data. This gives users insight into the
validity of their measurements with the assurance that values are correct as reported.
The self-organizing ability of wireless mesh networks pays off when obstacles such as sky
lifts and scaffolding appear, or even when trucks temporarily block the established signal
path. The network simply finds an alternate path for the signals to reach the gateway.
Mesh networks are therefore more robust.
Plant Challenge
Old Solution
Temperature 4-20 mA transmitter measurement on and slip-ring
rotating kiln Temperature
Wired probe
measurement in coal pile
Many backup measurements not connected to control system Old Problem New Solution
New Advantage
Slip-ring wear and
tear cause signal failure
Wireless temperature
No wear and tear and
thus reliable signal
Very laborious and
dirty moving the
wires around
Wireless temperature
Less labor intensive
Operator walks around Update once per shift; Wireless pressure, with clipboard to take Inaccurate, unreliable
temperature, level, readings from pressure
due to lack of and flow transmitters
and temperature gauges, diagnostics
level sight glasses, and variable area
flow meters
data, less labor
intensive, and more
accurate and
validated data; Safer;
No additional wiring
Don’t know the actual Blind
Operator required to
Wireless valve
position/status of walk to physically check position transmitter
manually operated valves Information available
when required,
enabling better and faster decisions
Don’t know the actual No feedback
Failures go undetected
Add wireless adapter
position or health of until process is affected
on existing positioner
control valves Faster response to
failures; Evasive
action taken before
process is affected
Temperature measurement on rail cars Safer, timely, and
more accurate
Operators with probe
climb rail cars
containing hazardous chemicals in adverse
weather conditions
Dangerous, infrequent
Wireless temperature
Safety shower Blind
A person using a
Wireless discrete input
monitoring safety shower got no assistance
Operations is alerted
if somebody uses a
safety shower and
may need help
Temporary trials Wired data
Very laborious and
acquisition systems
time consuming
and evaluations Wireless pressure
and temperature transmitters
Faster setup and
Measure pH in Running new wires
inaccessible places
Wireless pH
Fast deployment
High cost and
time consuming
Table 1: Recently deployed wireless solutions.
The mesh protocol also reduces the number of gateways
(transmission receivers) required because every device acts as a
transceiver, capable of relaying messages from other devices which
are not in the line-of-sight of the gateway. This makes wireless field
networks easy to deploy, since the site surveys commonly required
for line-of-sight communications systems are eliminated.
Measures used to combat channel noise include channel
hopping, black listing noisy channels, and using “spread spectrum”
transmission. Security measures include encryption, connection
authentication, and message verification.
Most plants use a mix of protocols such as wired Hart for safety
devices, Foundation fieldbus for control instrumentation, and
Profibus-DP for motor starters and drives. These integrate into
control and device management systems, enabling all devices to
deliver accurate, actionable information to the right person in time
to make a difference. Since wireless instrumentation is new, different
requirements apply to the wireless field network, and these must be
defined when engineering a new system or upgrade.
September 2008
Legacy potential
At first glance, that distributed control system (DCS) in the plant
may appear too old to support wireless. But this apparent stumbling
block can b overcome through the use of “wireless gateways” – field
devices that can be integrated with the existing system, whether new
or old. In fact, a WirelessHart gateway can be added to a control
system not supporting WirelessHart.
Because the wireless gateway supports Modbus/RTU, Modbus/
TCP, and optionally OPC, it can be connected to legacy control
systems while providing process variables from wireless transmitters
despite the lack of native wireless support. In addition, an HTTP
Web server embedded in a wireless gateway enables setup of the
WirelessHart network from a regular Web browser without support
from the control system.
Intelligent device management software can be deployed alongside
the legacy control system with all device-related information
efficiently passing between the field instruments and the device
management software. Thus, older plants can enjoy the benefits of
wireless and device management.
A wireless gateway enables legacy control systems to receive process variables from
wireless transmitters.
Wired Hart devices will also soon be able to be enhanced with wireless. Thousands
of plants use wired Hart devices, but their control systems lack Hart interfaces. Wired
transmitters and valve positioners will be able to be fitted with “wireless adapters”, so their
diagnostics can be accessed by device management software and remotely configured. By
incorporating this capability into daily work practices, the life and value of existing assets
is enhanced and extended.
Consider also the aging of the wireless infrastructure, which can have a lifetime of 15
years, much like a control system. How can device management software purchased today
configure and diagnose different types and new versions of wireless devices that come into
the plant in the future?
This compatibility is ensured through the use of the IEC 61804-3 standard Electronic
Device Description Language (EDDL), just as for wired Hart, Foundation fieldbus, and
Profibus devices (see Control Engineering Asia, September 2007).
Each time a new wireless transmitter or version comes into the plant, the software is
kept current by copying the device’s EDDL file onto the system. The file enables the device
management software to render the user (HMI) display exactly as intended by the device
manufacturer, and provides access
to know-how in the form of help
text and context-sensitive images.
First steps and
A wireless infrastructure can be
easily installed now for use with
existing devices and control
system. Many plants start small
with a wireless field network of a
few devices communicating with a
single gateway.
Wireless device management.
The first wireless point is
inevitably the most expensive, because to deploy one transmitter it is also necessary to
install the gateway, computer, and software, etc. However, once this infrastructure is in place,
installing each subsequent transmitter will cost very little more than the device itself,
because one gateway supports many transmitters.
As soon as that first wireless network begins to function, operations and maintenance
people will find numerous other applications around the plant, fulfilling long-held desires
for asset monitoring and process data collection. Look for applications in your plant by
listing the measurements that are currently collected manually – or not at all. Monitoring
applications offer a good opportunity to evaluate the technology with little or no risk.
Obtain a wireless starter kit through your maintenance budget. Use the kit to try out
wireless and involve all departments – engineering, operations, maintenance, etc, to
give everyone a chance to see how this rapidly emerging technology can enhance
equipment reliability, reduce plant downtime, improve process control, and result in a
safer workplace.
Jonas Berge is Senior Manager, PlantWeb Consulting, at Emerson Process Management Asia Pacific.
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