Companies are turning to wireless communications to minimize man hours spent walking plants or pipelines, particularly in hazardous or remote areas. Here are some high-level views about applying wireless technology in industrial plants:
1. Consider reliability. Reliability is the single most important issue to consider when installing wireless communications. Most devices on wireless use internal batteries. Even though the instruments themselves are quite evolved in terms of diagnostics, the power consumption and health monitoring of the batteries is still a concern.
2. Work around issues. If wireless doesn't function well in your plant, use fiber optics to ensure communications. Currently, experts are divided other whether wireless is ready for critical control. Wireless communications can fail sometimes (more often than with a fiber optic connection). The best approach is to implement wireless to get your information in remote places, to operate your devices near the equipment in the plant and to get the information flowing throughout all the teams in the plant. It will give you freedom to work in the plant, but keep in mind what may be at risk if the wireless fails for a couple of seconds. If nothing critical is at risk in those seconds, then consider going wireless as your first option.
3. Budget for wireless. Most project budgets still won’t accommodate a wireless communication system for instrumentation. It will take some time for end-users to realize the extra maintenance costs they are paying for a failure to implement a wireless system to more easily access information from equipment in remote or hazardous locations. Until then, a lot of manpower resources will continue to be used because of the large initial investment required to install wireless technology.
4. Pros and cons. Wireless has both positive and negative aspects in its implementation. For example, wireless signals can be compromised by EMF interference, so it may not be useful for auto-tuning circuits. On the other hand, it can be cost effective in minimizing wiring and being able to monitor plant conditions remotely, especially in situations where long cabling distances would be required.
5. Consider environment obstacles. Determine what potential obstacles will degrade signal performance and how to overcome those obstacles. Enlisting the services of an RF communications company could save money in the long run. They can help prepare a site study to determine where repeaters should be located and optimal antenna layouts. If you’re working in hazardous areas, make sure you select wireless instruments with the proper standard.
6. Suggested strategies. Develop a strategy on names and IPs at an early stage. If possible, use the same technology supplier for temperature, pressure and other instruments. Follow supplier recommendations for installation and use as close as possible. Make sure there's good documentation of the system architecture and that someone is designated to maintain a comprehensive database of IP.
7. Prepare for obsolescence. This field is relatively new and moving fast. Replacement parts may not be supported in as little as two years after purchase.
8. Look beyond the control room. Use a wireless sensor network as a second layer of automation in applications beyond the P&ID for data that goes beyond the control room, such as essential asset monitoring, energy conservation measures and HS&E improvements.
9. Specialists may be needed. It may be simple to implement wireless communication in one new project or modification, but if you need to connect more equipment you may need a wireless networking specialist to help you configure communication for the extra equipment.
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