Wireless Instrumentation

The first in the planned ISA100 family of industrial wireless networking standards—ISA100.11a—had still not been adopted at the end of 2008.

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But that has not deterred users from beginning implementation of wireless sensor networks in process plants. Emerson Process Management unveiled several working applications at its Global User Exchange in September.  (See, for example, the news item at www.automationworld.com/news-4686.)

When our Wireless series editor, Dave Gehman, investigated wireless instrumentation for this issue, he discovered that the application is similar to many engineering challenges. There are a number of technologies that exist for engineers to choose from. Careful investigation of alternatives in relation to the problem at hand is called for when applying wireless technology, no less than when applying any other technology.

The great promise of wireless instrumentation lies not in the cost saving accrued from reduced wiring expense. That may be significant in some cases. The true value can come from the increased knowledge of a plant’s operations resulting from the ability to economically install a large number of sensors. But this increased knowledge will do no good if it just sits on a server and suffers the fate of Father McKenzie of “Eleanor Rigby” fame—writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear. I’d hate to see this excellent technology turn out like advanced process control—
mostly turned off. I would hope that 2009 is the year when we see a boost in plant productivity because operators and managers have a better knowledge of the operations.

Check out an archived Webcast on wireless technologies and an overview of the WirelessHart standard at www.automationworld.com/webcast-4036

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