Emerson Begins Shipping Wireless Products

In a long awaited announcement, Emerson Process Management recently unveiled the details of its wireless networking strategy.

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Labeled a “significant” announcement for the process industry by the Emerson Process Management wireless team, the company’s wireless initiative went from strategy to reality as revealed in a press announcement at the annual Emerson Exchange Users Conference in Nashville on Oct. 2. Emerson President John Berra noted that press releases don’t change the world, products do. And Emerson, the Austin, Texas-based process automation supplier, has released for sale several products after three years of testing at customer plant sites.

The products extend Emerson’s PlantWeb digital plant architecture by delivering actionable information from assets previously out of physical or economic reach, expanding predictive process and asset management in existing and new facilities. The “Smart Wireless” solution consists of gateways, Rosemount measurement transmitters and wireless AMS Suite Intelligent Device Manager predictive maintenance software.

The new wireless products integrate with Emerson’s DeltaV and Ovation automation systems or with a customer’s legacy hosts. Full online wireless training is offered as well as service experts who can help customers set up their implementations. A Starter Kit selling for $15,000 contains enough equipment for an initial installation so that customers can get a sense of the power of the solution.

The real power

Berra, in an interview with Automation World during the conference, acknowledged that the real power of additional data derived from installation of many new sensors in a plant requires appropriate software that can analyze the data and present information to plant personnel in ways to help them improve operations.

“Plant knowledge is the key to improving business performance,” Berra noted. “Customers want it to be easy to install and use, so we underwent three years of field trials and tried out every technology searching for the one that would meet all customer criteria. We settled on mesh technology because you can add reliability by adding more nodes and the time switching mesh protocol (TSMP) based on IEEE 812.15.4 with frequency hopping coexists with current WiFi installations. Meanwhile, the wireless Hart protocol will allow users to tap into the diagnostic information residing in their current Hart instruments using a simple add-on wireless transmitter.”

“Our field trials were part of a partnership between BP and Emerson that we entered into with the intent of enabling innovative technology to be developed in record time,” said David Lafferty, senior technology consultant with the Chief Technology Office in Digital & Communications Technology for BP p.l.c., the London-based energy company. “The trials were very successful and a win-win for both companies. Emerson gained a real world environment for valuable testing and feedback on its technology; we at BP gained experience in exploiting this new technology for business value.”

Mesh strategy

Emerson's wireless strategy is built upon a "mesh" technology, IEEE 802.15.4, that is known as self-healing or self-organizing. After a gateway device is installed, new wireless nodes can be added just by bringing them into range of the gateway or another device on the network. The gateway polls the device to see if it's a "friend" and if so, then allows it on the network.

In a mesh, every device talks to every other device seeking the best routing for its message. It's kind of like conversations at a dinner table. Emerson tested several technologies and protocols during its 3-year test period in customer plants and settled on TSMP (time synchronized mesh protocol) over the more widely known CDMA (code division multiple access). Emerson Director of Technology Bob Karschnia likens the two protocols to ways of communicating over that dinner table. The latter protocol “is like me talking with my sister at the dinner table, but she’s at the other end. But everyone else can talk at the same time. So eventually we have to talk louder and louder to be heard. TSMP is like when Mom says, ‘OK everyone, now Bob can talk. Now his brother can talk.’ ”

The underlying philosophy of the mesh technology is to enable users to install literally hundreds or more sensors in a plant easily and at low cost. But the benefit does not stop there. The point is to also enhance software applications such as asset optimization to be able to make sense of this influx of data, so that plants can achieve operational excellence.

Emerson Process Management


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