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Wireless Networks and Energy Harvesting Technologies Grab Attention at Sensors Expo

The show featured new industrial wireless sensor networking products, along with a growing focus on energy harvesting technologies to power those networks.

Energy harvesting technology that could eliminate the need for batteries in wireless sensor networks (WSNs) has long been the topic of research. But as wireless standards begin to emerge for the industrial environment, and as more end-users launch industrial WSN applications, there are growing signs of progress on the energy harvesting front.

Evidence of that came at the Sensors Expo & Conference June 9-11, in Rosemont, Ill., near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. A number of vendors were touting energy harvesting products at the event, and citing real-world applications of the technology. Further, a day-long pre-conference symposium dedicated to “Energy Harvesting for Powering Sensor Applications” drew a respectable crowd.

Pre-compliant network

Other vendors used the Sensors Expo to roll out new industrial wireless networking products. Nivis LLC, an Atlanta-based supplier of industrial wireless sensor and control networks, introduced a wireless evaluation kit for industrial users that is based on the preliminary draft of the ISA100.11a standard being developed by the ISA100 committee of the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society (ISA).

“Nivis has the only ISA100.11a-based working system, as well as a suite of evaluation tools that allow assessment of an ISA100.11a pre-compliant network,” said Keith Sciulli, Nivis executive director of business development. The NISA100.11a Evaluation Kit—priced at $7,500—is designed to allow users to swiftly build an ISA-compatible network. Systems parameters can be easily monitored and configured, thanks to a graphic user interface that displays the data received from the acquisition channels as well as the status of the control channels of the field devices, the company said.

Also at the Sensors event, Millennial Net, based in Burlington, Mass., rolled out its fifth generation MeshScape 5 technology for wireless sensor networking. Designed for use with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ IEEE 802.15.4 standard, MeshScape 5 uses patent-pending virtually-on frequency hopping technology and other proprietary techniques for mesh networking. The technology is intended for use in both commercial and industrial applications, the company said.

On the energy harvesting side, various vendors at the show agreed that recent advances in the technology have made it viable for use in a large number of applications, and that interest in the technology has lately been picking up.

Energy harvesting aims to collect and store ambient energy for use in powering wireless sensors and other devices. Potential energy sources include solar, thermal and vibration, among others. In the industrial WSN space, vendors are typically focusing on energy harvesting devices based on piezoelectric or electromagnetic techniques or other methods that can capture energy from the mechanical vibration of motors and other industrial equipment. By eliminating the need for batteries, say proponents, energy harvesting technology can significantly reduce costs, because batteries don’t have to be replaced, while extending the number of locations where sensors can economically be used.

Fade reversal

“Three or four years ago, it seemed like this power harvesting idea was almost fading off. But it’s absolutely the opposite now. It seems like it’s gaining more visibility every year and more and more people are buying into it,” observed Jeremy Frank, Ph.D., president of KCF Technologies Inc., a State College, Pa.-based provider of vibration energy harvesting devices for industrial wireless networks. “There are sensors installed and there are feasible [energy harvesting] solutions that can be used.”

One such solution was described during a Sensors conference session by Roy Freeland, chief executive of Perpetuum Ltd., Southampton, England, a provider of vibration energy harvesting devices. Freeland said that Perpetuum vibration energy harvesting systems are being used to power wireless sensors as part of a GE Bently condition monitoring system installed in a Shell plant near the Ormen Lange natural gas field in Norway. Phase 1 of that project was installed last summer. Pruftechnik, a German condition monitoring system company, is also using Perpetuum energy harvesters in its systems, Freeland said.

KCF Technologies Inc.

Millennial Net

Perpetuum Ltd.

Nivis LLC

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