Industrial Wireless Update – where no wires have gone before

  • February 23, 2011
  • Feature
By Bill Lydon - Editor, February 2011
While the intense debates continue over industrial wireless standards many automation professionals are applying industrial wireless solutions to achieve greater efficiency and profits for their companies.
The growth of wireless applications will continue to be exponential. In an ARC report, Wireless for Process Manufacturing, the market is forecasted to grow at a 32% CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) reaching $1.1B in the year 2012. 
I’ve talked with a number of automation and control engineers who are using wireless technology to save money and implement new innovative applications. There are multiple standards but most users are applying wireless to solve problems that have high payback, typically in less than a year.  Industrial wireless standards will be more important in the future as wireless is used more broadly in systems. Today, there are multiple hardwired sensor networks in a plant to meet a wide and diverse range of monitoring and control applications. The same pattern is eventually likely for wireless.
IP Backbone
The wired TCP/IP Ethernet IT network has become the plant information backbone, bridging information between automation and business systems. Its reach has been extended with 802.11 wirelesses Ethernet. The 802.11 plant infrastructure is also being leveraged with mobile devices that have decreased in cost dramatically and allow operators to mange multiple machines while moving around a plant. This includes the use of Smartphone’s, tablet computers, netbook, and notebook computers. There is growing use of integrated video in these devices that enables the person in the plant to consult with experts and “show” problems in real-time.
Industrial Wireless Choices
There are multiple options for industrial wireless today including ISA100.11, IEC62591 (WirelessHART), IEC62601 (WIA-PA developed in China), ZigBee, 802.11 and many proprietary wireless devices.  A number of industrial Ethernet protocols leverage 802.11 Ethernet in plants with examples being Modbus TCP, EtherNet/IP and PROFINET.  This enables a number of motor drives, instruments, and sensors that directly connect to industrial Ethernet to communicate using a wireless Ethernet adapter. Even agency approved safety applications are being done with protocols such as ProfiSafe and EtherNet/IP CIP Safety over 802.11 wirelesses Ethernet.
Wireless Cooperation Team (WCT) 
The Wireless Cooperation Team (WCT) was formed by the Fieldbus Foundation, HART Communication Foundation, and Profibus Nutzerorganisation e.V. (PNO) to develop an interface specification and compliance guidelines to integrate a universally accepted wireless solution into the HART, FOUNDATION fieldbus, PROFIBUS and PROFINET communications networks. The common interface is intended to make it easier for automation end-users to take advantage of evolving wireless technologies.
By early next year, the group should have a specification released for wireless sensor/actuator networks for discrete applications.  During an interview with Carl Henning, Deputy Director of PI North America, he noted, “There is a difference in requirements for discrete and process wireless networks which is why we are doing a separate activity.” At one time they planned their own wireless PA specification but when WirelessHART came out they decided it did not make sense and started the cooperation. The reason for a separate discrete wireless network is that process requires slower response times while discrete needs milliseconds response, such as in material handling applications.  This wireless sensor/actuator network will use the IO-Link protocol and the WISA technology developed by ABB that is now an open standard.  
Wireless Closed Loop Control
Last September at the Emerson Exchange, Nicholas Meyer and Tracy Niebeling of Rosemount and Kurtis Jensen of Fisher Rosemount gave an interesting presentation titled, “Control Freaks: Wireless Control for Tomorrow.” They noted that people are using wireless for select control problems today and they cited numerous examples. Nine major oil companies use wireless control for 2,300+Wells. Another real application example is arc furnace temperature control.   Emerson has developed the DeltaV v11 PIDPLUS PID control function for wireless control.  The diagram in the presentation illustrated a filter that is a function of elapsed time to account for the non-deterministic nature of wireless. This could get tricky with some applications that experience rapid changes in process variables. The number of node hops between sensor(s) and control elements could also have an effect on control applications. The presenters believe that wireless control is happening now. New innovations will allow for more applications.
IP Edge Devices
There is an emerging movement for IP addressed sensors because it leverages standard IP technologies, and low cost, high power chips are making it practical. IP is starting to be used more often at end devices with Ethernet connections including motor drives, vision, flow sensors, motor control centers, safety relays, and analytical instruments. These application can just as well be wireless.   In the McKinsey Quarterly March 2010 it was stated, “In what’s called the Internet of Things, sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects—from roadways to pacemakers—are linked through wired and wireless networks, often using the same Internet Protocol (IP) that connects the Internet.” 
I think this a logical evolution of industrial wireless to provide a seamless linkage from sensor to business systems. The IBM Smarter Planet is an interesting and thought provoking initiative focused on the convergence of the enterprise with edge devices, based on three principles:
  • Instrumented - Measure, sense and see the exact condition of practically everything.
  • Interconnected - People, systems and objects can communicate and interact with each other in entirely new ways. 
  • Intelligent - Respond to changes quickly and accurately, and get better results by predicting and optimizing for future events.
This same logic makes sense for industrial applications. More information on IBM’s Smarter Plant
The 6LoWPAN movement is relatively new but strong. It incorporates IEEE 802.15.4 into the IP architecture and has the potential to be a game changer. 6LoWPAN is an acronym of IPv6 over LoW Power wireless Area Networks. 6LoWPAN is the name of a working group in the Internet area of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) The 6LoWPAN group has defined encapsulation and header compression mechanisms that allow IPv6 packets to be sent and received over IEEE 802.15.4 based networks.
The target for IP networking for low-power radio communication are the applications that need wireless Internet connectivity at lower data rates for devices with very limited form factor. Examples could include, but are not limited to: automation and entertainment applications in home, office and factory environments.   IPv6 is also in use for Smart Grid applications, enabling smart meters and other devices to build a micro mesh network before sending the data back to the billing system using the IPv6 backbone.
An informative application of this technology is the Tridium Sedona architecture that is being used to embed 6LoWPAN wireless controllers in HVAC and Building Automation products.   The first Sedona application was illustrated running on a small board about half the size of a stick of chewing gum with a single integrated circuit chip on it. This platform is basically a one-chip processor, supplied by Jennic, and has an IEEE802.15.4 wireless transceiver onboard. The communications is based on 6LoWPAN. It also has serial lines for hardwired communications. Tridium is a Honeywell company.
IPSO Alliance
The IPSO Alliance is a global non-profit organization seeking to establish the Internet Protocol as the network for the connection of Smart Objects. The organization’s purpose is to provide a foundation for industry growth through building stronger relationships, fostering awareness, providing education, promoting the industry, generating research, and creating a better understanding of IP and its role in connecting Smart Objects.   More information
Technology & Consumer Driven Technology
Industrial wireless will continue to take advantage of lower cost and high power components. Wireless technology is improving at a rapid pace, driven by commercial applications and technology advances including Wi-Fi, cell phones, wireless Ethernet, WiMAX, security devices, and mobile computing. There are now more Smartphones sold than PCs, according to IDC research. The report found that 100.9 million Smartphones were shipped in the fourth quarter of 2010, an 87 percent jump from a year earlier vs 92.1 million PC shipments.   Smartphones now come with multi-core microchips and are getting closer to matching the processor speeds of some PCs. The Smartphone processors incorporate cameras, 3G connectivity, the ability to download apps and Web content, and GPS.
What does this have to do with industrial wireless?  These devices are driving down the production cost of the powerful chips that contain embedded operating system software. These chip platforms may well become the building blocks for embedded industrial controllers and sensors.  The trend may be similar to the early days of industrial Ethernet - the chipsets were expensive, but over time the cost became trivial as Ethernet became pervasive in all markets.
Thoughts & Observations
Wireless technology integrated with high powered processors is growing at a rapid pace that will provide the opportunity to create impressive industrial wireless devices.   The adoption of off the shelf technology such as PCs, Microsoft software, and Ethernet has certainly improved industrial controls, lowered the entry costs for users, and broadened the number of applications.   There were arguments for a long time that this commercial technology would not work in the control industry. Those arguments have gone by the wayside. It is hard to predict how the various wireless technologies will impact industrial applications over time but it should open up many new opportunities to increase plant efficiencies and profits.
The advantage of having IP sensors, actuators, and controllers is an exciting possibility for seamless information flow from control and automation to the enterprise for tighter integration.
The competition in wired industrial protocol standards has been good for users since it has pushed the organizations and vendors to compete, make improvements, and lower costs. This same competition is and will continue to drive wireless solutions.
I think we are just scratching the surface of improving operations with wireless but it is not all in focus. A difficult call in business is determining the opportunity cost of not adopting a new technology before your competitors leverage it against you.   If you adopt too early the solutions may not be stable and if you adopt too late your competitors gain business advantages that may include higher profit margin, pricing flexibility, more flexible production and other advantages.
The bottom line is that users and vendors each will make decisions that are in the best interest of their business.
The winners are the automation engineers who will continually have more solutions to improve operations.
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