Latest News

An industrial wireless world

The take-up of industrial wireless networks has been slow, but the technology’s ease-of-use and versatility will win out in the end, writes Sarah Falson.

The world of wireless has become a more secure, reliable, viable option for industrial applications in recent years. While standards and industry acceptance still need to evolve, wireless technology is here to stay. We have spoken to some of the top players in the Australian wireless game, and following are their views on the industrial wireless world.

Easy plant access

According to ProSoft Technology public relations specialist, Adrienne Lutovsky, wireless plant operations can add capabilities to applications that were not previously possible. “Wireless can be used to improve plant efficiency in continuous process automation applications that require change-over of equipment for new products. Change-over times can take hours if the equipment is wired together, impeding productivity, whereas it can take mere minutes with a wireless network,” she said.

According to Lutovsky, there are now wireless options for industrial applications with critical, time-sensitive processes, or harsh environments that offer benefits beyond simple cost of equipment and replacement of wire. “Savings can now be attributed to greater gains in process optimisation, less downtime and demands on engineering,” she said.

Wireless on mobile

Industrial wireless technology has evolved in recent months, with the stock-standard mobile phone network, the Wide Area Network (WAN), able to used as a wireless communications medium.

Omniflex managing director, David Celine, said that extrapolating wireless communication to the WAN allows the communications reach to be “effectively geographically boundless – even across continents.”

While the traditional benefit of industrial wireless technology is the minimised installation cost of cabling, wireless networks using WAN also allow communication between industrial businesses and workers off-site, which are not within the boundaries of other communications.

From Celine’s point-of-view, take-up of wireless WAN technology has been slow, mostly due to education.

“This is in part due to the education of the consultants and specifiers, but another aspect is the sense of loss of control felt by these companies that have been used to owning and operating their own data communications infrastructure,” Celine said.

Portable internet

Systems 22 Pty Ltd, which distributes Opto 22 automation gear, claims that offering users both wireless ethernet and standard ethernet capabilities is the way to go, especially since some users have been slow to take-up the technology.

“Opto 22’s wireless SNAP PAC programmable automation controllers are the first to offer 802.11a/b/g wireless networking along with standard ethernet networking. Now, instead of having to deal with the hodgepodge of proprietary and incompatible technologies typically found in industrial automation, using wireless for programmable automation controllers is as easy as it is with laptop computers,” Systems 22 director, Stephen Earle, said.

Earle suggests that concerns about wireless security has inhibited the up-take of industrial wireless technology, however wireless technology is a cost-effective and viable communications option.

“Wireless capabilities provide numerous benefits to users, beginning with the significant savings achieved through the reduction in wiring and termination costs,” he said.

Industry acceptance

According to CrispTech Pty Ltd, which supplies Moxa wireless technology products to the local market, the industry has already accepted wireless networking as a mainstream solution for a number of different applications. “Wireless technology offers a number of key benefits, including flexible deployment, cost-effectiveness, greater versatility for expansion or migration, and wider network coverage,” said CrispTech national sales manager – communications products, Chris Hobl.

According to Hobl, wireless WAN technology technology is a popular choice, due to its extended range and coverage. Similar to Omniflex, Crisptech offers solutions based on the mobile WAN standard, which Hoble says is a feasible solution for a wide variety of applications. “In the past, using wireless for communicating between remote devices or remote offices and the central office was not feasible due to problems with cost, speed, and reliability. However, wireless technologies have already reached a level of sophistication,” Hobl said.

Safety without wires

Yokogawa Australia says that not only does wireless technology offer wiring cost savings and connection to remote areas of the plant or site, but also the technology can offer improved plant safety.

According to the company, wireless networks offer users of process automation a number of advantages, such as reduced wiring and engineering costs, safety and accessibility.

According to Yokogawa Australia managing director, John Hewitt, the relatively slow take-up of wireless technology has some to do with incompatible wireless communication protocols and the lack of advanced technologies. “Yokogawa is committed to the development of a single standard for open, rather than proprietary, field networks,” said Yokogawa Australia managing director, John Hewitt. Yokogawa supports the development of ISA100.11a as a wireless standard.

Yokogawa has recently released a range of EJX-B wireless pressure and differential pressure transmitters which the company claims offers accurate and stable process measurement. The transmitters operate with an internal battery that has a life of up to five years.

No strings network

Distributed in Australia by Micromax Sensors & Automation, Banner Engineering claims to have reinvented wireless technology with its SureCross Wireless Network – which it says is the first platform built from the ground up for industry applications. The Banner SureCross Wireless System is a radio device network with integrated I/O that can operate in extreme environments while eliminating the need for costly wiring runs. “Installation is fast and easy with flexible mounting and power options,” said Micromax Sensors & Automation product support engineer, Simon Webb.

According to Micromax, equipment durability is key in the industrial world of wireless. “Parameters such as well levels, effluent flows, pump cycles, compressed air consumption and a host of other production data can be monitored and controlled for optimum conditions,” said Webb.

No bog standard

Emerson Process Management claims that relying on a strong network is an important element of any successful wireless plant. The company is an advocate of the WirelessHART standard for process monitoring and control, based on HART, which Emerson Process Management business development manager, Tom Rolton, claims is the most widely used standard for its purpose in the world.

“WirelessHART opens up both the prospect of making new measurements as well as tapping the unrealised potential of the millions of HART wired device installed today,” he said. “A key element in the design of WirelessHART was to keep the technology simple to use so that plants with varying levels of technical capabilities could equally share in the benefits that it has to offer.”

Emerson Process Management has recently launched its Smart Wireless field starter kit offering in Australia, adding discrete switches as well as vibration and pH transmitters to the kit’s wide range of components. The kit is designed to allow new users the opportunity to try wireless on a basic level, and is designed to be easily upgraded with new components as they require them.

The Smart Wireless field kit includes an out-of-the-box, secure WirelessHART self-organising network that the company claims delivers greater than 99 per cent communications reliability in the steel and concrete environment of plants.

Equipment monitor

While Honeywell recognises that industrial wireless technology can help to improve safety, productivity and efficiency, it also claims that wireless can help to prolong the lifetime of expensive equipment because the assets are being continuously monitored.

According to Honeywell process solutions wireless business director, Jeff Becker, wireless technology will become more prevalent in future because of increasing global competition to produce quicker, more cost-effective processes.

“We are in a world of increased competition, escalating regulatory compliance, and rising energy prices. Wireless technology is an enabler that optimises the way industrial companies can respond to these pressures in a cost effective and timely manner,” he said.

Becker says that industry confidence barriers are still inhibiting industrial wireless growth, with operators needing to catch up with technology. “The products available today are secure, reliable, and high performance.

The biggest barrier to wider adoption is really education, to understand how and where to deploy wireless, and gaining the confidence in those decisions. Our industry is conservative in adopting technology, so it is natural to expect things to take some time. However, the pace of wireless adoption continues to accelerate. Based on our vantage point, wireless appears on a more rapid adoption curve than all prior technology transitions. It is certainly an exciting time to be involved with industrial wireless!” he said.

Honeywell’s OneWireless Starter Kit is designed to provide users with an introduction to wireless, with a set-up time of only 20 minutes.

Send this to a friend