Wired vs wireless trade-offs: How to choose for new installations

Wired vs wireless trade-offs: How to choose for new installations
Wired versus
wireless trade-offs
How to choose for new installations
By Moazzam Shamsi
Figure 5. Steam trap monitoring with Rosemount 708 wireless acoustic/temperature
transmitters allows accurate detection of
issues before they escalate.
ieldbus technology has been
available for more than 20
years. Initially, FOUNDATION
Fieldbus and other digital
fieldbus technologies were developed
in the 1990s as a replacement for the
4–20 mA standard. Today, virtually
every manufacturer of flowmeters,
pressure transmitters, and similar
instrumentation offers FOUNDATION
Fieldbus and other popular fieldbus interfaces, and every major automation
system vendor supports one or more
fieldbus standards.
More recently, ISA-100 and WirelessHART were also developed. The
International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) approved WirelessHART
in March 2010 as IEC 62591, and ISA100 was approved in September 2014
as IEC 62734. For the purposes of this
Fieldbus details
Figure 1. Many process plants have both wired fieldbus and wireless infrastructure in
place, allowing the use of either for new installations and projects.
Interface card
Device coupler
power supply
120 m
1900 m
Figure 2. FOUNDATION Fieldbus diagram. Multiple FOUNDATION Fieldbus instruments can be connected to each instrument through the device coupler and then networked back to the host
control system.
article, wireless refers only to wireless
sensor systems, and not to other wireless technologies such as 802.11 Wi-Fi.
Today, automation professionals
in a process plant have a choice to
make for new installations: wired
or wireless? For plants with existing
wired and wireless infrastructure,
the choice hinges on a straight
comparison of the two technologies
and the application of the solution
that makes sense. For plants without
an existing wireless infrastructure,
the cost of installing one must be
considered (figure 1).
Compared to traditional 4–20 mA
wiring, fieldbus technologies save
wiring costs, simplify expansion, and
are easier to make redundant because
they allow multiple instruments to use a
single cable called a trunk or segment. A
trunk or segment begins at an interface
device at the automation system. On
a FOUNDATION Fieldbus system, the
interface is called an H1 card.
The DC power needed for instruments
on a FOUNDATION Fieldbus segment is
provided by a power supply rated up to
500 mA, enough to theoretically power
more than 32 instruments. In practice,
however, 12 to 16 instruments are
typically installed on a segment. Some
instruments require more than 20 mA;
available power diminishes over long
cable lengths; and engineers like to
allow capacity for adding instruments.
Typically, up to 12 devices can be
installed on a fieldbus segment up to
120 m long. If the process unit has more
than 12 instruments, a second or third
segment can be installed.
If a problem occurs in any instrument
on the segment—such as a short
circuit—it can disable the entire
segment. Therefore, many plants
install a segment protector or device
coupler, allowing multiple instruments
to connect at one location. The device
coupler is installed in an enclosure near
the process unit. Connections to the
individual instruments are called spurs.
A typical segment includes an
interface card, a fieldbus power supply,
a device coupler, and individual
spur cables from the coupler to the
instruments (figure 2). With FOUNDATION
Fieldbus, the H1 card communicates to
the plant’s distributed control system
(DCS) via a high-speed Ethernet
(HSE) connection. Other fieldbus
This article shows the advantages
of each technology, recognizing that
almost every plant will end up with a
mix of wired and wireless. To simplify
comparisons, FOUNDATION Fieldbus
and WirelessHART will be used as
leading examples of
fieldbus and wireless
technologies. Each has
• Automation professionals working in process
significant competiplants can choose between wired fieldbus or
wireless for many new projects.
tors, but comparison
• Some visionaries predict all-wireless plants are
of competing techcoming, but this is not possible yet.
nologies in each area
• Wireless will gain in popularity because
is outside the scope of
it can monitor anything, anywhere.
this discussion.
Figure 3. These two Rosemount 3051S
multivariable transmitters are each
sensing temperature and pressure, and
transmitting this and other information back to the host control system via
technologies use similar architectures.
For critical process units, a redundant
segment can be installed, using
duplicate segment cables and power
supplies. In hazardous areas, intrinsic
safety barriers provide protection.
Where do you use Fieldbus?
The ideal application for wired fieldbus
is a process unit containing many
flow, pressure, temperature, level,
multivariable, and other instruments,
all within a reasonable distance of
each other. The more instruments in
a relatively small area, particularly
complex multivariable units, the more
fieldbus makes sense (figure 3).
By using device couplers and
marshalling cabinets strategically
located around the unit, wiring from
instruments to device couplers can be
minimized. Most fieldbus instrument
suppliers offer automated design tools,
making it easy to design a segment,
calculate maximum distances, and
determine the wire types. When
instruments on a segment are far apart,
repeaters allow segment distances up
to 300 m.
Instrumenting such an application
is fairly easy, because multiple
vendors make components with
various fieldbus interfaces. If a
plant wants to modernize its legacy
control system and install fieldbusbased instrumentation, HART can
use existing 4–20 mA wiring from
older instruments to carry digital
response speed of a wired system—
information to the device couplers.
from the spur to the segment to the
The device couplers can be installed
H1 to HSE to the DCS and back again
in the old marshalling cabinet, saving
to a control component, such as a
a considerable amount in wiring and
control valve—can be significantly
labor costs. Although HART does not
faster than a wireless system.
have performance levels comparable
to newer fieldbus technologies,
Because of the cost of the hardware
it is the least costly wired digital
(H1 interface, power supply, cable,
option, and often sufficient from an
etc.), wired fieldbus is not suitable for a
operational standpoint.
few devices located far away from other
Valve and pump controls are also
instrumentation. Such applications are
available with fieldbus, so it is possible
better handled by wireless transmitters,
to set up local control loops within the
along with other scenarios such as
fieldbus array operating independently
adding instruments to existing plants
from the DCS. This is accomplished
without installed extra capacity in the
with function blocks allowing, for
wired infrastructure.
example, local proportional, integral,
derivative (PID) control of a digital
Wireless details
valve controller based on signals from
WirelessHART is a self-organizing mesh
a nearby level transmitter. If the DCS or
technology in which field devices form
the HSE go down, the control loop will
robust wireless networks to dynamically
continue to operate.
mitigate obstacles in the process
environment (figure 4). Other wireless
Shanghai Wujing Chemical, an acetic
technologies employ similar strategies,
acid plant in Shanghai, China, upgraded
with varying degrees of effectiveness.
its controls and instrumentation to
Wireless technologies do not require
increase its capacity from 300,000 tons/
communication wiring and related
yr to 530,000 tons/yr. The new system
infrastructure. Some wireless devices
included an Emerson DeltaV DCS and
require power wiring, but the vast
FOUNDATION Fieldbus instrumentation.
majority of deployments use battery
Shanghai Wujing used local control for
power and thus operate completely
114 PID loops. This saved 74 percent
without wires. Wireless networks
of the DCS controller process time.
communicate data back to host
FOUNDATION Fieldbus diagnostics and
systems securely and reliably, and
communications are now used during
can be applied to both control and
calibration of control valves, saving 80
monitoring applications.
percent of the time previously needed
A WirelessHART installation requires,
for maintenance and operations.
first of all, a wireless instrument
Typically, wired fieldbus devices
transmitting data according to the
and segments have more power available than wireless transmitters. This makes wired
fieldbus suitable when
working with loop-powered devices such as twowire level transmitters
with continuous wave
modulation, eight-channel process temperature
transmitters, tank gauging multispot temperature transmitters, intelligent on/off valves, and
field indicators.
Wired fieldbus is also
Figure 4. Modern wireless networks can be used to
communicate with many types of devices spread
suitable for real-time
over widely dispersed areas.
control. The
IEC 62591 WirelessHART standard.
If a transmitter does not have
WirelessHART, a wireless adapter can
be installed on most existing two- or
four-wire devices.
With WirelessHART, each wireless
device transmits to a gateway managing
a specific wireless field network.
Typically, the gateway is assigned to a
process unit. Each gateway manages
its own wireless field network and
can have an assigned HART tag like
any HART device. Each wireless
field network in a plant has a unique
network ID to prevent devices from
attempting to join the wrong network.
communicate through each other to
send messages to the gateway, forming
a self-organizing “mesh.” The mesh
extends the range of a device beyond
that of its own radio. For example, a
wireless device may be several hundred
feet away from the gateway with
obstacles between, but power-efficient
“hops” through neighboring devices
closer to the gateway ensure a reliable,
extended range. The gateway connects
to the DCS via a wired or wireless highspeed link, typically Ethernet.
Where do you use wireless?
The chief advantage of wireless systems
is that they can be installed virtually
anywhere in an efficient, timely,
and cost-effective manner. Batterypowered transmitters require no wired
infrastructure or local power supply,
so they can be far away from a process
unit’s wired fieldbus and power wiring.
They can also be installed in locations
where supplying power and cabling
would be too expensive or hazardous.
This flexibility means that there are
benefits to using wireless in both
greenfield capital projects and existing
brownfield facilities.
Greenfield capital projects typically
want to make 10 to 20 percent of
traditionally wired signals wireless.
construction contractors and plant
owners see strategically incorporating
wireless as beneficial in terms of
reducing physical fixed infrastructure.
They also use wireless technology
to manage schedule risk and cost
escalation/containment and to reduce
space requirements and weight.
Wireless can reduce schedule and
cost impacts because there is always
the potential for scope creep and
additional I/O as projects progress. The
later in the project a change comes,
the greater the risk of jeopardizing the
project schedule and budget. Wireless
can usually accommodate these
changes better than fieldbus.
Quite often, additional measurements are eliminated from the design
of a new or retrofit project because
those signals are deemed too costly
to implement during the capital expenditure phase of a project. If those
measurements are needed later, adding wired instrumentation can be
much more costly than wireless solutions. On these types of brownfield
projects, wireless solutions are a good
way of supporting operational excellence programs to improve plant productivity and reliability and compliance to emerging environmental and
safety legislation.
A plantwide wireless network can
be installed with minimal disruption
to fixed infrastructure such as wiring, conduits, and cable trays. Adding
wiring to these existing assets can be
costly, and interfering with aging assets can cause unforeseen issues such
as disrupting signal transmission. For
example, a major chemical company
in Europe implemented a plantwide
wireless infrastructure to enable operational expenditure programs. The
first application was an energy project
to monitor steam traps. The company
installed wireless acoustic transmitters to listen for acoustic signatures
and monitor temperature—both vital
signs related to steam trap operation
(figure 5). The steam trap monitors
took only two days to install, and they
generated a complete return on investment (ROI) in six weeks through
detection and remediation of previously unknown losses.
In another application, a global
contractor reported that adopting
wireless solutions cut commissioning
time by 50 percent. It also streamlined
the design and engineering process,
saving 10 hours per measurement
point. Using wireless helped them
maintain the project schedule and
improved their ability to manage
change on the project.
A third leading wireless application
is fixed asset inspections per IEC 60079
Part 17, which requires plants to continuously monitor electrical equipment
in hazardous areas. This directive obliges maintenance personnel to manually
check instrument cable glands, cables,
terminal field junction boxes, safety
barriers, trunking, ducting, pipes, and
conduit for leaks, corrosion, tightness,
and similar problems. Wireless transmitters do not require wired infrastructure, thus eliminating this costly maintenance task.
The low-power nature of WirelessHART devices allows them to operate for several years without replacing
the battery. Configurable update rates
conserve battery life by choosing the
most appropriate rate for a particular
application, typically within a range of
1 second to 1 hour. Most applications
today are “monitoring” and therefore
only need infrequent updates. WirelessHART transmitters can in certain
circumstances be used in real-time
control applications, but this requires
higher update rates, in some cases necessitating wired power.
Many projects have a very attractive
ROI when using wireless that they do
not have with wired fieldbus due to its
added installation and maintenance
Table 1.
Advantages of Fieldbus
Widespread support among instrument suppliers
l Supported by almost every automation system supplier
l Familiar to maintenance personnel
l Excellent for control
l Decades of operating experience
l Best for multivariable instruments
and multipoint devices
l Digital data shows raw measured
l Extensive diagnostics
l Less wiring than 4–20 mA
Table 2.
Advantages of wireless
Significant reduction in installation
l Inexpensive
l Reduces space, weight, and power
l Easy to expand to accommodate
changes and additions
l Excellent for monitoring applications
l Can be used for control in some
l Best for hard-to-reach locations
l No need to modify existing wired
l Can reduce the need for fixed asset inspections, reference to IEC60079 Part 17
l Allows measurements to be made
where fieldbus is not practical or feasible
costs. In these situations, wireless can
quickly deliver an investment payback,
with ongoing benefits.
Using fieldbus and wireless together
Some visionaries predict all-wireless
plants are coming, but this is not possible yet. Instead, modern automation
platforms and connectivity standards
are making it easier to use fieldbus and
wireless together. Those designing new
automation projects should consider
using both as complementary technologies in a tactical way to efficiently
manage projects and to enable operational excellence programs.
Fieldbus and wireless can be used
together to manage project risks, such
as I/O scope creep, and engineered
to meet power, space, and weight design constraints. Ideally, a basis for
design should be established early in
the project so engineers clearly understand which technology to use in
each situation.
Wired fieldbus will continue to be
used, because it can perform real-time
process control with a DCS and with
control-in-field function blocks and provide signals and power to control devices. Wireless control is possible with WirelessHART using PIDPlus algorithms, but
it will take time for industry to gain the
confidence and experience to apply this
technology for real-time control.
Wireless will become more popular because it can monitor anything,
anywhere. Also, it is more economical
than wired fieldbus and can be easily
installed in both new and old plants.
Industry-leading process plants will
install both wired and wireless infrastructure and use whichever is most efficient and effective in each situation. n
Moazzam Shamsi, M.Sc., B.Eng., C.Eng.,
MinstMC, has been an automation professional for 25 years, and his career spans
a broad range of industries and roles from
technical leader to project management.
He presently works for Emerson Process
Management where he globally directs
Emerson’s wireless consulting and execution solutions on large capital projects.
Shamsi specializes in working with clients
and contractors to implement technology
solutions for capital and operational efficiency projects.
“Big changes ahead for Fieldbus
Foundation on the eve of twentieth
“Projects commissioning with Fieldbus Foundation”
“Industrial wireless sensor networks”
Eprinted and posted with permission to Emerson Process Management from InTech
January/February © 2015 ISA Services, Inc.
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