Benefit by installing reliable, secure wireless communications networks at your plant

Benefit by installing reliable, secure wireless communications networks at your plant
Benefit by installing reliable,
secure wireless communications
networks at your plant
By John Blaney, Emerson Process Management
he market for wireless devices
and equipment in process and
manufacturing plants is on a
fast-growth trajectory. A recent
study by the ARC Advisory Group
(see sidebar) projects sales increasing by 32% per annum to $1.1 billion in 2012. Primary reason for the
bullish outlook: An enviable record
of successful deployment continuously reaffirms the value of wireless technology; positive experience,
in turn, spurs further acceptance.
Flexibility and scalability, coupled
with low-cost implementation and
ongoing technological advancement,
make wireless solutions both practical and economical. Having achieved
success in the process world, the
technology is migrating to the generation sector of the electric power
industry, where it is quickly gaining
Understanding how wireless devices can improve powerplant operations and economics requires some
background on the basics of the technology. The primer that follows also
illustrates wireless solutions and
shows how the technology can give
you access to information that was
generally inaccessible previously. A
few short case histories demonstrate
the value wireless already is delivering to forward-thinking owners.
Wireless 101:
Field networks
Wireless networks can be characterized as either field or plant networks
(Fig 1). Each serves different applications and has specific requirements
for bandwidth, power, and standards.
Field networks, formed by wireless field devices and gateways, are
configured for process applications,
process control, and diagnostics.
Remember that wireless field devices
Plant network
Control network
Field devices
Remote sites
1. Seamlessly integrating wireless field and plant networks, and existing wired
networks, into a single plant architecture helps optimize applications across the
function the same way as traditional
wired instrumentation and measure
or sense pressure, temperature, flow,
level, corrosion, vibration, etc, in critical equipment like turbines, pumps,
boilers, generators, etc. Typical field
applications include continuous monitoring of (1) pressure relief valves
and stacks to avoid environmental
excursions and related fines, (2)
temperatures at heat-transfer equipment to alert when fouling impacts
efficiency and cleaning is necessary, (3) valve position to ensure the
process is properly aligned, and (4)
vibration—even when the equipment
itself is rotating.
Design. Two competing technologies serve wireless field networks:
point-to-point and self-organizing
mesh. The former relies on direct
line-of-sight communication between
each device and its gateway. It is
less flexible and potentially less reliable than a mesh network because a
single obstruction can initiate a communication failure.
By contrast, wireless mesh networks enable each device to act as a
router for other nearby devices, passing messages along until they reach
their destination (Fig 2). Devices and
gateways work together to establish
multiple paths of communication. If
there is a change in the network or
conditions that affect communications, they immediately move to the
next available communication path
based on signal strength.
Mesh networks deliver data at
greater than 99% reliability. As
new obstacles are encountered in
a plant—such as scaffolding, new
equipment, or moving vehicles—
these dynamic networks reorganize
around them automatically, without
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2. Wireless field networks based on
mesh technology deliver data at
greater than 99% network reliability.
As new obstacles are encountered in
a plant, these dynamic networks can
reorganize around them
automatically—without any intervention by the user
any user intervention. Adding and
moving of devices also is simplified:
As long as a device is within range
of at least another in the network,
it can communicate. However, best
practices for maximum network
reliability require that two or more
devices be within range.
Because point-to-point networks
require direct, line-of-sight communication between each device and
its gateway, network set-up often
is time-consuming and expensive.
A site survey must be conducted to
ensure that every node in the system
has a line-of-sight path. Such surveys
are not required for configuring mesh
networks. Another disadvantage of
point-to-point networks: They may
require as many as five times the
number of infrastructure nodes as a
self-organizing network.
Operation. Wireless field networks
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must be based on open standards
to ensure interoperability. Work is
ongoing in this area. The Hart Communications Foundation (HCF, www. has ratified WirelessHART™, which adds wireless
capabilities to the HART protocol
while maintaining compatibility with
existing HART devices, commands,
and tools. International Engineering
Consortium (IEC,, and
the International Society of Automation (ISA, also are
developing wireless standards for
process control applications.
WirelessHART is the standard
that Emerson Process Management
and other vendors—including ABB
and Siemens—use in manufacturing their wireless intelligent devices.
WirelessHART field networks use
self-organizing mesh technology and
are designed and tested to tolerate
almost all interferences; they can coexist with other wireless networks in
a plant.
These field networks are designed
to the very-low-power IEEE 802.15.4
standard—the same radio technology
that also underlies the Bluetooth®
and ZigBee wireless communication
protocols. The bandwidth characteristics of WirelessHART permit
reliable and secure delivery of short,
high-priority bursts of data.
In effect, Wireless HART devices
only “come to life” when scheduled to
Target your audience
do so, maximizing battery life. This
intermittent operation and the low
power requirement combine to keep
batteries in service from five to seven
years, depending on the application,
update rate, environment, etc. Still
longer battery life is predicted for the
Security is of top priority when
developing wireless solutions.
WirelessHART uses a multi-layer
approach to assure the highest level
of security: frequency-hopping/antijamming measures, encryption,
authentication, verification, and key
n Frequency-hopping spread-spectrum radios are used in anti-jamming measures. WirelessHART
uses 2.4-GHz frequency for communication, hopping around 16
sub-channels to avoid any interference in the environment—deliberate or not. Spread-spectrum
radios are commonly used for
security with wireless communication, but should not be considered
secure by themselves because they
have to run through frequencies
and channels on a preset schedule,
which can be duplicated.
n Encryption is one of the other
mechanisms used by WirelessHART to assure secure communication. It entails taking the
HART data packet and scrambling the information so it can-
not be used if intercepted. Once
received by the intended network,
the information is decoded and
translated back into usable data.
n Authentication and verification
ensure communication is taking place between legitimate,
approved parties. Think of them
as “handshakes” that allow only
known devices in the field network
to communicate with each other.
For example, authentication on
a phone conversation starts with
knowing who you are calling, or
“prior” identification, and confirming they are who they say they are
through voice, accent, and personal information.
n The wireless gateways and devices
in the field network maintain a
white list of known and joined
devices they can communicate
with. Any other devices are considered rogues until they join correctly
and present the right credentials.
Verification uses so-called message
integrity codes on top of encryption
to ensure the data packets both
on an end-to-end and on a per-hop
basis are correct.
This prevents rogue devices from
being able to mimic a legitimate
device and its data, which is akin
to the other person on the phone
with you providing information
only both of you know. If a device
is not properly authenticated,
other devices will not communicate with it. If a device doesn’t
verify the data packet correctly,
the data will not be used and the
device is considered unreliable
until it verifies correctly.
n Key management refers to use
of passwords to ensure that only
authorized devices have access
to the data. Without the proper
“key,” access is denied. Regular
key rotation provides an additional measure of security to ensure
that keys cannot be duplicated
A gateway interfaces the wireless
field network with the wired network
world. Most elements of the security components identified above also
should be employed on both sides of
the gateway. Because the wireless
field devices do not use TCP/IP messaging, if an intruder tries to compromise that side of the network, the
attempts will be ignored. However,
because communication from the
gateway to the control system does
use TCP/IP messaging, the addition
of a firewall or other industry standard technique—such as VPN or
HTTPS—is strongly recommended to
provide the necessary security.
Wireless 101: Plant
Whereas field networks are used to
communicate critical process control
information, the wireless plant networks serve applications not necessarily central to the basic power-generation process. These include data
connectivity, video/perimeter security, voice communication, and people
and asset tracking. Some examples
include the following:
n A wireless plant network enables
mobile operators with suitably
equipped wireless laptops to monitor processes anywhere on the
plant floor.
n A plant-wide wireless broadband
network with Voice over Internet Protocol (VOiP) can replace
walkie-talkies. This targets and
expands the flexibility of mobile
communications, because messages can be broadcast to specific
teams based on the IP address of
each worker’s radio.
n Installing wireless transmitters
at eye-wash or shower stations
improves health and safety by
alerting emergency personnel
when activated; assistance can be
dispatched, if necessary.
These and other high-bandwidth
plant network applications are based
on IEEE 802.11, an accepted industry standard commonly referred to
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as Wi-Fi. Unlike wireless field networks, which are supported by the
process industries and organizations
serving them, the standards for wireless plant networks are driven by the
IT community.
Wireless plant networks also can
be based on either point-to-point
or mesh technology and they share
many of the same security concerns
that exist with wireless field networks. Wireless field networks and
devices were designed from the start
with built-in security features, wireless plant network technology was
not. Because plant networks use
open IT standards, it has become
necessary to add security measures
to address evolving concerns. This
means it’s in your best interest to
choose a plant network supplier with
the capabilities to address the full
range of security concerns to the satisfaction of the IT community.
For example, Emerson Process
Management works collaboratively
with a leading networking vendor to
deliver open-standard wireless plant
network applications to the electric
power industry. Using that vendor’s
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highly secure wireless architecture,
Emerson builds plant networks that
offer industrial-class wireless access
points, controllers, security and network management software, plus
the plant applications that use them.
The architecture provides integration
within a plant’s existing IT infrastructure, thereby eliminating the need for
a complex wireless overlay network.
Another advantage: Configuration
and management of the plant’s wireless plant network is centralized,
reducing overall cost of ownership.
Key terms in a new language
Communication technologies bring
with them a new lexicon that powerplant personnel will have to become
familiar with—as if they didn’t already
have too much to do. Some unfamiliar
acronyms are spelled out in the text
and web addresses given to facilitate
access to additional information. More
acronyms and unfamiliar terms are
defined succinctly below.
ARC Advisory Group, founded in 1986,
is a leading research and advisory
firm for manufacturing, energy, and
supply-chain solutions. One of its
practices guides electric utilities with
their strategic planning, supplier
selection, and technology assessment needs. Goals include helping
clients improve their return on assets,
operational performance, shareholder
value, etc.
Bluetooth™ is defined by Wikipedia
as a wireless protocol for exchanging data over short distances from
two or more fixed and mobile devices, thereby creating personal area
networks. It was originally conceived
as a wireless alternative to RS232
data cables.
The Bluetooth Special Interest
Group (SIG) is a privately held not-forprofit trade association founded in fall
1998. It does not manufacture or sell
Bluetooth-enabled products. Member companies, including leading
telecommunications and computing
firms, drive technology development
and implement and market Bluetooth
in their products.
HTTPS, or Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure is a secure version of the
Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (http)
Case histories
An increasing number of power producers are implementing wireless
solutions, using them to cost-effectively extend the capabilities of a digital-bus-based plant architecture to
that you are probably familiar with. It
was developed by Netscape Communications to permit secure commerce transactions—such as online
banking. The encryption and decryption routines that it runs protect
against eavesdropping and manin-the-middle attacks, according to
TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) is the network
protocol of the Internet because of its
ability to connect together networks
of different sizes and systems. It
originated from research sponsored
by the Dept of Defense and provides
the functions necessary to deliver
a package of bits from a source to
a destination over an interconnect
system of networks. There are no
mechanisms to promote data reliability, flow control, sequencing, or other
services commonly found in host-tohost protocols.
locations that were inaccessible previously or impractical financially. To
illustrate: Millions of installed smart
HART-based devices have some level
of diagnostics capability but many
plants don’t have the infrastructure
to receive these HART data into an
appropriate system.
Since only a small fraction of
these devices is monitored digitally,
the potential gain from accessing such “stranded” diagnostics is
significant. Existing wired HART
devices can be upgraded with a
wireless adapter to transmit diagnostics information to where it can
be used to initiate corrective action
as necessary.
The following case studies illustrate the diverse applications to
which wireless technology can be
applied, as well as the quantifiable
Case history #1. An electric power
producer has two gas turbine/generators and 11 remote pump houses at
one site. Each of the pumping stations has a small heater to protect
against winter freeze-up. Should a
heater fail and water freeze, cost to
repair or replace the pump and associated piping could run as much as
$20,000—not including the cost of
downtime, which could be up to three
Wireless temperature transmitters were installed in each of the 11
remote buildings. The devices communicate through a wireless gateway
back to the control room, alerting
operators to any rapid temperature
VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol,
is a technology that allows you to
make voice calls using a broadband
Internet connection instead of a regular phone line. VoIP services convert
your voice into a digital signal that
travels over the Internet. If you are
calling a regular phone number, the
signal is converted to a regular telephone signal before it reaches the
VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a
computer network in which some of
the links between nodes are carried
by open connections or virtual circuits in some larger network—such
as the Internet—instead of by physical wires. A common application is
secure company communications
through the public Internet to accommodate the needs of remote employees and distant offices.
changes in the remote buildings so
they can take corrective action before
damage occurs. The alternatives,
running trays over the roads or conduit under existing structures, were
far too expensive.
Case history #2. A power producer
turned to wireless to improve plant
performance. It instrumented multiple points to access the data for the
performance-improvement effort and
then transmitted that information
to the plant’s existing distributed
control system. In sum, nearly 120
wireless devices—mostly pressure
and temperature transmitters and
wireless gateways—were installed
on five turbines. The project would
have been cost-prohibitive to implement with a wired solution. Benefits
included a reduction in downtime,
improved staff efficiency (elimination
of operator rounds), and lower maintenance costs.
Case history #3. Laboratorio de
Pruebas de Equipos y Materiales
(Lapem), the certifying agency for
Mexico’s Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE), the national electric
utility, is using wireless technology
to reduce the time required to calculate the performance of the nation’s
generating units.
One of Lapem’s duties is to evaluate the performance of CFE’s 140
combined-cycle, fossil steam, nuclear,
hydro, and geothermal plants by
measuring pressures, temperatures,
flows, and power production.
The laboratory has only five analysis teams to install test instruments
Wi-Fi is a global standard for highspeed wireless local-area networking.
The Wi-Fi Alliance, a non-profit organization with more than 300 members
in more than 20 countries, develops
tests and certifies wireless devices
that implement IEEE 802.11 specifications. To date, the group has certified the interoperability of more than
5000 products.
ZigBee is a wireless language that
connects dramatically different
devices and enables them to work
together. The ZigBee Alliance is a
non-profit association of more than
300 member companies that are
driving the development of reliable,
cost-effective, low-power, wirelessly
networked monitoring and control
products based on an open global
at each plant, take measurements,
and tear down the setups. Using traditional wired architecture, the Lapem
teams could only evaluate about 50
plants annually, short of its goal of
reaching every facility biennially.
Wireless was considered a solution for reducing turnaround times.
To evaluate its merits, one team
was equipped to establish temporary
wireless networks in the powerplants
it was assigned. This involved installing up to 25 wireless instruments per
plant, plus a wireless gateway to
receive key flow, pressure, and temperature measurements. Data were
routed to a thermal-efficiency model
to determine unit heat rate and the
efficiency of principal equipment—
condensers, cooling towers, boilers,
turbines, etc. Results help the analytical team identify problems that
must be addressed to improve performance.
Using wireless devices, the Lapem
team completed its onsite work in
10 days, five less than the 15 days
required when wired instruments
are used. The bottom line: The wireless solution enabled the team to
improve its productivity and plant
coverage by 10%, which translates to
an annual revenue increase for the
laboratory of $512,000. Also, by covering more plants, the team helped
CFE increase its revenue (higher
plant output resulting from improved
performance) while reducing operating costs.
The ease of use and reliable performance of wireless infrastructure
convinced Lapem to equip all five of
its analytical teams with wireless
instrumentation. Expected result
is that 25 more assessments will be
conducted annually, generating an
additional $1,375,000 in revenue
with existing staff. Also, all plants
can be tested every two years.
(Wire)less is more
The first step in your wireless journey begins with deciding on the
application(s) for which the technology will be used. This, in turn,
determines whether the application calls for one or more field networks, a plant network, or both.
From there, plant personnel should
investigate the options available
to them and consider not just the
current need, but also think more
broadly about how wireless technology might benefit other aspects of
the plant.
As part of this assessment, it is
important to select an approach
based wholly on open standards,
which helps ensure that a facility
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is not handcuffed to a specific technology or vendor. It is particularly
beneficial to work early on with an
established, reputable vendor having a proven track record—one that
can manage and advise through all
phases of the project.
Also, while wireless is many things,
it is important to also remember what
wireless is not. At the field level, it is
not intended to completely replace
wired instrumentation, and—at least
now—it is not designed to control
boilers, turbines, or other critical
power-generation processes. Wireless
technology can be used for certain
types of control—specifically where
the chosen solution can meet latency
and update requirements of the
application. These typically include
open-loop control applications and
latency-tolerant non-critical control.
What it can do is cost-effectively
extend the full benefits of a digitalbus-based plant architecture to locations that previously were inaccessible or financially impractical. Data
from wireless devices can be seamlessly integrated into the control system, offering insight into additional
plant and process data for control
and asset optimization.
At the plant level, a wireless infrastructure also has implications for
workforce productivity—as operators no longer have to make “clipboard rounds”—as well as for plant
management, including physical
plant security, video monitoring and
surveillance, and people and asset
Seamlessly integrating wireless
field and plant networks, and existing
wired networks, into a single plant
architecture helps optimize applications across the entire enterprise.
And it is affordable, with installed
costs significantly lower than a wired
equivalent—as much as 90% lower in
the case of a wireless field network.
This is possible because going wireless eliminates the time and expense
of drilling through concrete decks,
installing conduit and cable trays,
and pulling wires.
From an implementation standpoint, wireless is attractive because
it is both flexible and scalable. It
is not an “all-or-nothing” scenario.
Instead, power producers can adopt
this approach wherever it makes
sense for their plant. By picking an
application—even a small one—users can achieve improvements that
would not be possible in a traditional
plant configuration. They can easily
expand their wireless portfolios later,
as budget and confidence in the technology grow.
Finally, keep in mind that wired
and wireless networks are complementary technologies and as such,
operate side-by-side in the plant
environment, each serving an important purpose. For power generators
looking for a flexible, scalable, and
economically feasible solution to optimize plant operations, one thing is
clear: When it comes to wireless technology, less really is more. ccj
John Blaney is
Emerson Process
PlantWeb® product manager. He
has more than 30
years of experience
designing, installing, and troubleshooting powerplant control
systems. Blaney participates in determining functional requirements for
the company’s Ovation® products—
including intelligent instrumentation, digital fieldbusses, distributed
controls, and the management of
these smart assets. He can be reached
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