The ad hoc wireless network: “It’s probably the biggest problem there is today in wireless,” declares Hesh Kagan, director of technology marketing and new ventures at automation vendor Invensys Process Systems, in Foxboro, Mass.
Kagan’s reference is to the way that wireless technologies often enter the industrial environment. In a typical scenario, an engineer tries out a wireless point solution to solve a particular problem. Then someone else brings in a different system for a different problem, often based on a different wireless technology. Before you know it, you’ve got multiple wireless point systems in your plant that effectively form an ad hoc network that “just kind of grew as a hodge podge,” Kagan notes. “And I can guarantee you it will not work, it will not be supportable and it will not be maintainable, even if your IT (Information Technology) community did allow it to happen.”
Kagan’s comments—made at the recent ISA Expo in Chicago—were by way of introducing a new Invensys strategy for industrial wireless communications. The strategy centers around shared access point technology and common data and security models for all wireless devices—regardless of vendor or application, the company says.
As part of its solution, Invensys has partnered with Apprion, a Moffett Field, Calif.-based company, to develop and supply a family of wireless access points that can handle multiple frequencies and protocols from different vendor devices, for conversion to a common data model. “You can think of it as a wireless multiplexer,” Kagan explains. Apprion is also developing systems management software to deal with the routing and handling of wireless data, as well as the security infrastructure for everything coming in, Kagan adds.
Standard wireless technologies are supported, including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi, 802.16 WiMax and 802.15.4, along with radio frequency identification, ZigBee and Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), in addition to proprietary vendor frequencies and protocols. “We are working with particular vendors to provide solutions for our customers,” Kagan says. “So basically, we can do anything wireless, anywhere in a facility, for any solution.”
Invensys is offering the strategy as a managed service that is designed to overlay existing plant control and information infrastructures, whether provided by Invensys or another vendor. The service includes hardware and software as needed; site survey and analysis services; engineering and systems integration services; implementation services; and ongoing maintenance, support and optimization services. Site surveys are already underway at several large North American chemical manufacturing complexes, Invensys says.