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The Standard Way To Do Things

The fact that wireless industrial standards are so new provides an excellent vantage point for observing the process of making a standard. Standards depend on consensus, and the means for reaching consensus can be intrinsically interesting.

Sidebar: "P&G's Jim Reizner Outlines Standards Development" To read the accompanying sidebar to this article, go to

Unfortunately, the detailed content of discussions around technicalities in industrial control networks is a different matter vis-à-vis intrinsic interest, at least to anyone outside the disciplines involved. Digital signal processing and the ramifications of control timing are not light dinnertime discussions. Engineering development in these arenas resembles development in every complex technical project: participants slog through a painstaking process of examining alternatives and weighing trade-offs.

Each person who has the knowledge, experience and skills needed for this kind of close technical examination, and who has made selections of one or two alternatives from among hundreds, usually comes away from the encounter with strong opinions. The upshot is, in any standards building process, there will be roomfulls of bright people, each initially leaning toward a specific and probably unique solution. Hammering out the differences can generate much heat while a standard is being born. We draw the curtain around this aspect of standards development, not for lack of importance, but for lack of space.

{mosimage}More easily discussed at a high level is the history and methodologies. WirelessHart began with Emerson Process Management, an Austin, Texas-based automation controls vendor. “We saw a huge potential for wireless automation,” says Bob Karschnia, director of technology for Emerson Process Management. “After several years of joint research and development with Dust (Dust Networks Inc., a Hayward, Calif., wireless networking technology provider), and a year-and-a-half of installation experience, we decided to open up the technology through the Hart Foundation. We felt that a WirelessHart standard would be the best way to proliferate the technology.” That was in late 2004.

The first group meeting was in March, 2005, involving some 15 companies, including Emerson Process Management, Honeywell, Siemens and Yokogawa.

“We began the process of an open standard for industrial wireless by looking at existing standards,” says Ron Helson, executive director of the Hart Communication Foundation. “We tried to find an existing standard that fit the various needs of Hart users. ZigBee was a natural choice, and the IEEE 802.15 (a standard promulgated by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) specification that we chose to build on is almost certainly the result of ZigBee.”

However, ZigBee-based radios, although relatively low in power requirements, proved to be too power hungry. “We asked ourselves if we could mold some of the ideas behind ZigBee into a less power consuming technology. It had a lot of good things—mesh networking being a key one—but in addition to unwanted levels of current consumption, it didn’t have frequency agility, the ability to frequency hop automatically.”

The WirelessHart committee, made up of automation equipment suppliers, also looked at other existing wireless protocols with the objective of creating a network for wireless measurement via field devices. “Dust Networks then came forward,” Helson says. “Their technology became a starting point—the mesh network, frequency hopping and gateway communications control fit our needs. The committee extended and molded the basic infrastructure, adding to and enhancing the original concepts.”

The key objective was functionality. “We wanted an interoperable standard,” Helson says. “Devices from vendors A, B and C should drop seamlessly into a network controlled by a system from D, via a gateway from vendor E. On top of this, the WirelessHart standard is designed to hide the complexities and make for a familiar and easy transition from wired to wireless. Process users have enough on their plates—they don’t have the time to assimilate revolutionary new things.”

With its roots in Emerson, Dust, IEEE and a universe of other technologies, WirelessHart can be seen as an amalgam of both proprietary and standard elements. Far more of this kind of amalgamation characterizes ISA100.11a (a standard in development by the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society), with its broader focus. The increased number of constituent elements is, of course, consistent with the wider scope of the ISA100 wireless objectives, including standards for systems for discrete manufacturing as well as closed-loop control.

Among the many contributing standards to ISA100.11a are—prepare yourself for many a dot and many an
acronym—IEEE 802.15.4-2005 wireless personal area network (WPAN) radio specifications, 6LoPAN (Internet protocol 6 low power personal area network) specifications adopted by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and UDP (user datagram protocol), a message-oriented Internet transport layer. “Yes, there are a lot of available technologies, but we focus on what users need, and that simplifies the job of picking the best technologies to adapt to industrial needs,” explains Dave Kaufman, business development director for Honeywell Process Solutions and a member of the ISA100.11a working group.

The ISA100 project’s complexity is heightened by its inclusion of end-users, though many feel that also makes the standard stronger. “We feel that because users are involved, the outcome will be more robust and sustainable,” says Kaufman. “The only way to hit the sweet spot for an emerging technology in an emerging market is iteratively, and end-users offer us one of the better ways to connect the dots. We’re convinced that when a standard is developed with users and for users, then users are almost certainly going to buy into it.”

The Procter & Gamble Co.’s Jim Reizner, in Cincinnati, is one of those end-users. “We gain several advantages from participation,” says Reizner, who is section head, corporate engineering for P&G and co-chair of the ISA100 End-User Working Group. “First, it ensures that the standards will be developed to meet our specific needs and challenges, something that may or may not happen without our involvement. Second, because we’re part of the process, we gain first-hand knowledge of what the standards do and do not cover—the strengths and holes. That will help us leverage ISA100-compliant wireless technologies as they become available. Third, and perhaps most important to me personally, I have access to technology leaders in other end-user companies. I work day-to-day with people from ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, Intel and many other companies. We share learnings with one another in an open and informal way that would not occur if not for our involvement with standards development.”

There is a final benefit. “The process gives us a unique opportunity to get together to discuss our needs and present them in unison to the manufacturers. Manufacturers listen a lot more to a group of end-users than they do to a single end-user.” He adds: “The thing that has amazed me through this process is how similar the end-users needs and desires are—regardless of the industry we serve. Even though we focus on consumer goods, Procter & Gamble’s manufacturing needs are more like those of the oil companies, electric power companies, and the computer chip makers than I would ever have imagined.”

“We’re building on what we’ve learned in the wired world—building on all the good stuff about connecting and taking away the bad,” says Kauffman. He has no doubt of the import of ISA100. “It’s the next 4-20 [milliAmp standard],” he says, “and it will be the infrastructure for a revolution in industrial automation.”


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