Switching to Wireless

Switching to Wireless
Switching to Wireless
Now you can detect level without incurring the cost and complexity of laying
cables, says Jonas Berge.
the plant floor with a clipboard. However, increased
focus on quality, throughput, availability/reliability,
shorter shutdown periods, energy efficiency, and new
environmental regulations is driving change in how
plants are maintained and operated. This monitoring
now has to be automated. Wireless is the ideal solution.
level switch can be used in applications
with liquids and slurries, including coating
and aerated liquids. Sensing is virtually
unaffected by flow, turbulence, bubbles,
foam, vibration, solid particles, build-up, or fluid
properties. Applications include high and low level
detection in liquid tanks as a backup to a continuous
level transmitter, activating a pump based on level,
and starting or stopping a mixer based on level around
the blades.
Now, new developments in wireless communications
are enabling an easy and cost-effective solution for
level monitoring without laying cable or associated
risk of damaging the existing installation, and enable
configuration and troubleshooting from a central
And intelligence inside the switch can also distinguish
between material build-up on the fork and a high
product level, reducing inspection in the field. Electronic
device Description Language (EDDL) is used to enable
level switches to be configured and monitored from the
same device management software as a plant’s other
intelligent devices such as pressure and temperature
Opportunities to take advantage of this technology
are common. For example, many tanks around the plant
may initially not have been fitted with instrumentation
connected to the control system. Similarly, coolant
and lubricant level in various assets have not been
monitored continuously.
In fact, most plants were designed with a minimum
amount of instrumentation because of the high cost
of hardwiring. Plants relied on operators walking
May 2011
Overcoming limitations
Adding hardwired level switches into an existing plant
can be very costly because it may require laying and
connecting new cabling, as well as possibly additional
cable trays, system input cards, and system tag license
cost. Such hardwired solutions are time consuming, and
improvement ideas therefore often get shelved. Wireless
level switches overcome these limitations of hardwiring.
They can communicate using IEC 62591 (WirelessHart)
protocol, the only international standard for wireless
in process applications. Wireless level switches can be
deployed without running cable or using up spare wires
and system input cards, and because there are no wiring
connections to ring out, commissioning is also easier.
Level switches are also available with an intrinsically safe
power module that can last up to 10 years at a 60-second
update rate and can be replaced in the hazardous area.
A wireless level switch shares the same network
infrastructure as wireless transmitters (e.g. pressure,
temperature, pH, vibration, conductivity, level, valve
position feedback, etc.), and all of the information is
transmitted via the same gateway. One gateway can
support up to a hundred IEC 62591 transmitters. Once a
gateway is in place, plant personnel can easily expand the
network at will. This enables level switches to be installed
on points previously not monitored by the control system,
to enhance operation and worker safety. This ability to
easily add new devices is one of the reasons plants choose
to deploy a wireless infrastructure in the first place.
Because all IEC 62591 devices use the same common
application protocol, devices and gateways from
different manufacturers work together seamlessly. These
devices self-organize, forming a mesh network where
each device maintains communication with multiple
neighbors – establishing multiple communication paths
and relaying data from even the most remote devices
all the way to the gateway. Other wireless topologies
like star or point-to-point are not suitable for the dense
plant environment, requiring costly backbone router
infrastructure to be wired.
This topology does not require line-of-sight
communication between devices and the gateway and
eliminates the need to build a web of access points
throughout the plant or run power in a hazardous area.
The devices automatically find the best communication
path, and the wireless system continuously monitors signal quality
to ensure network robustness and greater than 99 percent data
reliability. If devices are added or removed, the network automatically
adjusts its communication paths, without any interruption in data
flow. No manual configuration or reconfiguration is required.
The technology makes it easy to add level switches for improved
automation in existing plants – for instance, to eliminate operator
rounds to read sight glasses or gauges with a dip stick. These wireless
level switches check the level every few minutes or seconds instead of
once a day, week, or month – providing insight into plant operations
up to thousands of times faster and more accurately than operator
clipboard rounds. Other areas of use include asset monitoring, such
as oil level in machinery. Because deployment is easy, small wireless
projects tend to materialize.
Principle of Operation
vibrating fork level switch operates on the principle of
a tuning fork. An internal piezoelectric crystal oscillates
the external fork at its natural frequency. The frequency
changes depending on the medium in which it is immersed. The
denser the liquid, the lower the frequency. Thus, the frequency is
different depending on if the fork is immersed or dry. Changes to
this frequency are monitored.
A short fork with a high natural frequency of approximately 1,400
Hz is used, avoiding interference from other plant vibration which
otherwise could cause false switching. The fork is shaped in such
a way that liquid quickly drips off as liquid subsides.
From the frequency it is also possible to tell the condition of the
fork. Unlike many other level switch technologies, the vibrating fork
technology does not have parts that can get stuck and therefore
is less prone to failure.
Build-up detection
Intelligent vibrating fork level switches can detect conditions such
as product build-up on the fork that may render a traditional level
switch non-operational, with potentially serious consequences such
as production downtime, spills, and pump damage.
With a simple on/off signal from a hardwired float level switch it
was not possible to tell the difference between a stuck switch and an
actual high-level condition. Similarly, it wasn’t possible to tell if the
level switch was damaged or had failed and the signal was therefore
invalid. For this reason, technicians periodically had to go to the
field to perform checks just to be sure, often to find nothing wrong.
With intelligent devices, however, changes in frequency are used
to detect not only high or low level, but also media build-up on the
fork, external damage to the fork, internal damage to the piezo, and
excessive corrosion.
This field intelligence eliminates the need to send a technician
into the field to inspect on a hunch. Suspected problems can be
verified remotely from the control room, and cleaning or service
scheduled accordingly.
Dashboard with process state display and device health
Build-up of material on the vibrating fork is detected in the
early stages and flagged on the screen as an advisory alarm. This
enables Operations to schedule cleaning of the forks before buildup accumulates to the point where it causes a false process state
indication. Identifying the build-up problem early helps avoid an
unnecessary shutdown, thus reducing downtime. Maintenance
technicians can also focus on the cleaning and repairs which are
really needed, instead of inspecting a fork which need not be cleaned.
As a supporting troubleshooting tool, the fork’s frequency is also
displayed as a dynamic needle gauge with a color band on the scale
to distinguish normal from abnormal operation. The health of the
internal power module is also indicated. The EDDL technology
is the key to interoperability with access to all device functionality
through a hierarchical menu structure. The information page also
includes a photo making the level switch easy to identify in the field.
The EDDL file from the device manufacturer is copied onto the
system to tell it how to interface with the device. Unlike other device
integration technologies, no software installation skills or license key
management are required for the file in order to commission a new
device type or revision.
Interface issues
Maintenance technicians must manage many types of intelligent
devices from different manufacturers. Remote setup has existed in
transmitters for two decades but is relatively new to level switches.
To make this easier, device manufacturers use EDDL (www.eddl.
org) to define how a device is to be displayed in the system. This
technology is used for continuous devices such as transmitters and
positioners as well as with discrete devices like level switches, on/off
valves, and electric actuators.
The use of EDDL enables IEC 62591 level switches to be set
up and checked using the same intelligent device management
software as the other devices in the plant. The information from
level switches is displayed side-by-side with information from
wireless transmitters for pressure, temperature, and other process
parameters. They are also displayed the same way as Foundation
fieldbus and Profibus devices.
This consistency makes work intuitive and enables technicians
to apply what they have already learned from working with other
devices to the level switches. That
is, systems based on EDDL makes
managing the mix of devices easier,
thus eliminating the errors and
learning curve associated with using
a different software or driver for
each one. Manufacturer know-how
in the form of text and illustrations
is brought into the system through
the EDDL file organized based on
human centered design principles to
guide less experienced technicians
in setting up the level switch.
For instance, on the device
overview page, the process state is
clearly indicated as “wet” or “dry”
and is accompanied by device health
status indicating the validity of the
information. The operator can
easily tell the difference between
media build-up on the fork and an
extreme actual high level and act
Device details such as frequency and power module status facilitate troubleshooting.
May 2011
Gateway to the Past
odern distributed control systems (DCS) have native
support for wireless. However, an older control system
can also make use of wireless level switches or any
other IEC 62591 transmitters using a wireless gateway that
converts the signal to Modbus/RTU, Modbus/TCP, or OPC. Wireless
support in the control system engineering console is not required
as the network setup is done through a web server embedded in
the gateway, and devices are configured through intelligent device
management software. Hence, no additional software is required
to be loaded onto the control system or other PC for operations
or security. Instead, the existing Hart configuration tools including
asset managers and handheld configurators are used to bring the
network online. Once the network is in place, more devices can
be added for all kinds of measurements without disturbing the
existing live wireless network.
Because the wireless gateway can convert the signal to Modbus/RTU, Modbus/TCP or OPC, older control systems can interface
to new wireless devices like the level switch.
Each version of each device from every manufacturer has its own
unique EDDL file. There are no shared files, thus ensuring that
adding a new device does not overwrite another.
Since it is a compressed text file independent of the Windows
operating system, EDDL technology gives a system administration
advantage over other device integration technologies in that existing
device files are not made obsolete by new Windows versions.
Conversely, new device files do not force a Windows upgrade for
the system. Time is saved by minimizing upgrade administration,
and new versions of Windows and software can be adopted and
benefitted from sooner.
Time delay can be configured to minimize false switching due to
turbulence or splashing, such as in the presence of agitators. To set
delay time on traditional level switches they must be opened up and
a potentiometer adjusted by screwdriver. This is inconvenient in the
field and exposes electronics to the harsh environment.
With a WirelessHart vibrating fork level switch the delay time
and other settings can easily be checked and adjusted remotely from
the control room without going to the field. The EDDL technology
enables the device management software to maintain a single audit
trail for all devices including level switches where configuration
changes are logged.
Expanding the benefits
Once an IEC 62591 gateway has been deployed, it can be used
for many functions. Transmitters can be added at-will to achieve
on-going process improvement. These incremental steps, like “mini
projects”, can be quickly and easily implemented where it would
have been impractical with hardwired monitoring technology.
There are many level points around existing plants not being
monitored due to the high cost of hardwiring. At the heart of the
digital plant architecture that uses the power of field intelligence
to improve plant performance, WirelessHart technology offers the
ability to cost effectively monitor level without laying power or
communication cables with associated risk of damaging the existing
And using EDDL technology, device manufacturers can use
human centered design principles to develop wizards which
guide setup of intelligent devices around the plant, thus making
management of a mixture of simple and sophisticated device
types from different manufacturers using different protocols
Jonas Berge is Director of PlantWeb Consulting, Emerson Process
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