Thinking Through Wireless

Thinking Through Wireless
Thinking Through Wireless
Jonas Berge shares some tips & tricks for deploying wireless in process applications.
here are many different types of wireless networks, and
not all of them are interoperable. Careful consideration
should be taken at the beginning to ensure that you are
not left with an antiquated network. So it is advisable to protect
your investment with a wireless solution based on an international
And to ensure a wide selection of products, and replacement
parts with market-based prices, use a wireless standard adopted
by multiple vendors. These should be companies you are already
familiar with and use today. The WirelessHart (IEC 62591) standard
has been adopted by many instrumentation and controls suppliers.
However, using the same IEEE 802.15.4 radio alone does
not ensure interoperability. Therefore make sure all wireless
transmitters in the plant also use the same “application protocol”,
such as Hart. This ensure all transmitters are integrated with the
system the same way, are easy to replace, and that they are all
setup, calibrated, and diagnosed the same way.
You should also check if the technology has been independently
trialed in a multi-vendor plant environment to verify it meets process
user requirements. For instance, WirelessHart transmitters from
different vendors were independently tested by NAMUR at a BASF
plant in Germany. The trial confirmed WirelessHart meets user
requirement such as:
• Has high availability/reliability
• Can coexist with other wireless networks
• Cyber security
• Multi-vendor interoperable
• Long battery life
An RF study only captures the operating environment at a
single point time; a planning tool that can account for the
total mesh network is a much better option.
maximum range to 100 m or less, depending on density. For this
reason, using mesh topology is more important than maximum
range. With WirelessHart, messages can be relayed seven or
more times between transmitters to circumvent obstacles and
sources of noise. Star or point-to point topologies will not be able
to maintain network reliability in dense environments where EMI
fields change regularly (like all plant environments).
Deploying wireless instrumentation and Wi-Fi in separate
access points will simplify future upgrades, because the IEEE
802.11 standard evolves rapidly with new versions every other
By ensuring that all wireless transmitters
are compatible with the same handheld field
Plant performance can be improved, and
communicators, laptop software, and documenting
operations and maintenance cost reduced, by
calibrators your plant already has and your
deploying hundreds or thousands of wireless
technicians are familiar with, you can simplify work
transmitters in applications around the plant. But
and avoid specialized software and tools.
do not lump all these transmitters onto the same
network. Instead, create one smaller dedicated
network for each plant area, each gateway
Network planning
associated with that area’s DCS controller. This fits
Network planning need not be expensive or time
nicely with responsibilities divided by plant area.
consuming, but is critical to realize for a robust
When wireless transmitters are used for
network. Determine what current applications will be
measurements essential to operations, consider use of
wireless, and also consider potential future projects.
redundant gateways to increase availability. Remember
Your gateway or access point should be located in an area
to include UPS or redundant power supplies and transient
which enables you to meet your current needs and also
(if required). Redundancy doesn’t help if the
allows you to meet future needs without unnecessary
power is lost to both.
repeaters or new access points.
The IEEE 802.15.4 radio used in wireless field
Proactive users will consider putting a wireless
instruments and the IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi) both operate
infrastructure throughout the site so future projects can
in the 2.4 GHz band but have been designed specifically
be more quickly and cost-effectively deployed without
to not interfere with each other. However, for backbone
additional infrastructure investment.
applications carrying high bandwidth data such as from
Don’t rely on RF studies of the plant for robust network
multiple video cameras, consider using Wi-Fi in the
planning. These studies are often very expensive and only The familiar
5 GHz band.
capture the RF environment at that single point in time. handheld
Pumps, motors, cars, and the weather can change the RF Hart tools
patterns and will vary unpredictably. Instead, use network also work for
Battery power
planning tools that can account for the total mesh network WirelessHart.
By specifying wireless transmitters that use hotand varying obstruction density. Mesh networks will
swappable intrinsically safe power modules, battery
adapt more easily to changing RF conditions than other networks.
replacement in the field is made possible. Note that no industrial
Wireless transmitters are able to communicate 200 m, 600 m, and
wireless transmitters use regular carbon-zinc or alkaline batteries.
even 800 m. However steel obstacles in the plant can reduce the
As 10-year battery life is likely with low-power IEEE 802.15.4 radios
October 2011
found in many devices, large numbers of spare power
You should also let the gateway periodically
modules are not required. Consider stocking the same
rot ate (change) the encr yption keys
number of spare batteries as a traditional transmitter
automatically to make hacking more difficult.
– typically 10 percent of the total installed.
And to avoid the security risk of “sticky notes”
Use a wireless technology based on the lowwith passwords written down, consider using
power IEEE 802.15.4 radio technology to ensure
intelligent device management software which
long battery life. Note that 10-year battery life
can automatically generate the network join key
is possible with mesh topology because the
(password) and automatically transfer it into the
routing function only turns on the radio, not the
wireless transmitter using a wire modem. This
sensor, measurement electronics or display, all
way the join key is not revealed to any user, and
of which consume the most power.
there will be no issue of typing it in incorrectly.
While one second update periods are available
For ease of use, share a common join key
in networks today, do not default all transmitters
for all transmitters on the wireless network. If a
to this setting. The biggest impact on battery life
higher level of security is required, use individual
is measurement updates, since the sensor must
join keys for each transmitter, but do so only with
be powered. Although the radios in a mesh
intelligent device management software which
network may be powered more frequently to The biggest impact on battery life can automatically generate, assign, and track all
enable mesh routing, this has minimal impact is measurement updates, since
these join keys. Exposed IP addresses present
on battery life. Take a moment to decide what the sensor must be powered.
a security risk as hackers can “spoof” the
update rate is really required. Depending on
network and take it down or insert unauthorized
the application, a temperature check once every minute is often
traffic. Therefore use wireless instrumentation which does not
sufficient, and vibration checks every half-hour are appropriate.
rely on IP addressing. WirelessHart meets this requirement
To optimize battery replacement, use an intelligent device
which means the I&C department can freely deploy WirelessHart
management software to monitor all wireless transmitters for low
transmitters without IT involvement.
battery warnings. WirelessHart transmitters provide escalating
battery warning before and near battery end of life.
In fact, intelligent device management software should be
used to monitor overall device health for predictive maintenance.
WirelessHart adaptors support pass-through of full diagnostics for
even the most advanced devices such as valve positioners. Overall
health is reported in every process value update. Technicians can
then zoom into increasing depth of detail.
Wireless networks can do control, but fast-update
requirements need careful planning and you should discuss
with your vendor.
How about control?
Intelligent device management software provides early and
escalating battery warning.
Security issues
Make sure the wireless technology supports the security
mechanisms to protect against various cyber attack threats. The
minimum required protection measures are:
• Encryption
• Authentication
• Verification
• Anti-Jamming
• Key Rotation
• Sequence Number
Most importantly, verify that it is not possible to purposely
or inadvertently turn security off. For WirelessHart the security
cannot be disabled. Look for third party security certification of
your wireless networks including Achilles testing.
While monitoring has been the main application for wireless thus
far, wireless networks are ready for control applications today and
have been used successfully by end users.
Several types of “control” are often referenced with regards to
wireless. For slow or open loop control, most networks are quite
capable of this, with >99 percent data reliability. When it comes
to fast updates, some networks claim to be able to support one
second updates for fast wireless control. Mesh and star/point-topoint topologies are capable of this, but both will require some
careful planning. Make sure to ask the vendor for any practices
or limitations that will need to be followed to assure >99 percent
data reliability. For PID control, although no network currently has
a wireless valve positioner, highly reliable wireless networks can
be used for measurement input into PID loops. And for discrete
output, some networks, including WirelessHart, do support
devices with discrete output capabilities. These can be used with
reliable networks for latency tolerant control applications like level
control, or mixing applications.
Jonas Berge, is Director of PlantWeb Consulting, Emerson Process
Management (
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