Automating data collection through wireless mesh networks and low-power sensors is favoring the monitoring of the condition of an ever-wider array of equipment. “Battery-powered wireless sensors allow sites to gather continuous data at a very low cost,” explains Rajat Sadana, a principle business development specialist for Honeywell Industrial Measurement and Control, based in Minneapolis. “These technologies allow maintenance engineers to collect data from locations where, in the past, the cost of wiring a sensor would have been too high and not justifiable.”
Sadana reports that the initiatives already underway to create standards for such networks should cut their deployment costs and help to spread their use for condition monitoring. Among these initiatives are the SP100 and Wireless Hart standards being developed by the Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society (ISA), of Research Triangle Park, N.C., and the Hart Communication Foundation, of Austin, Texas, respectively. The ZigBee Alliance, of San Ramon, Calif., also is promulgating a protocol for deploying small, low-power digital radios in wireless networks.
Some technologies in the laboratories, such as energy harvesting and low-power MicroElectroMechanical Systems-based (MEMS) sensors, also show promise at increasing the practicality of wireless monitoring. “Over the next few years, these developments will increase the capabilities of wireless-based monitoring to such an extent that it will be competitive with wired technologies,” says Sadana.
Meanwhile, applications engineers are already finding that wireless technology can expand the number of sensors that are practical for condition monitoring. An example is Honeywell’s SmartCET corrosion-monitoring technology. The company’s engineers have learned to install corrosion sensors on remote pipes and vessels and link them to distributed control networks via wireless transmitters.
“Bringing this data into the control room in real time can turn corrosion into a process-control variable,” observes Dawn Eden, Honeywell’s marketing manager for corrosion products. “It can optimize the delivery of chemicals for controlling corrosion and microbial growth in cooling systems.” It also can open a new window into the chemistry of processes and establish the relationships of variables to corrosion rates.
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