Understanding ISA100 Wireless Technology

May 23, 2013
The ISA100.11a*1 standard is at the heart of a range of wireless networking products from Honeywell, Cisco, Flowserve, GE, Yokogowa and others. Here’s a deeper look at the technology and how it benefits industrial plants.

At multi-vendor interoperability demonstrations at the Hannover Messe 2013 trade show, Andre Ristaino, managing director of the ISA100 Wireless Compliance Institute, talked about ISA100 Wireless technology, which is based on the ISA100.11a*1 standard. Products based on the standard emphasize user choice and network device flexibility, and compete with WirelessHART products, promoted by the The HART Communications Foundation. ISA100 Wireless products are certified and promoted by the ISA100 Wireless Compliance Institute.

 “ISA100 Wireless’ object-oriented technology assures interoperability within a flexible framework, supports new protocols, and future proofs users’ wireless network investment,” said Ristaino. Companies participating in the Hannover demonstration included Azbil, Control Data Systems, Flowserve, GE, Honeywell, Nivis, Perpetuum, Apprion and Yokogowa and others.

Yokogawa recently came out as strong advocate for ISA100 Wireless as the basis for its Wireless Anywhere approach to plant communications. Honeywell Process Solutions announced the availability of its OneWireless Network Release 210, which includes over-the-air field device provisioning and a Gateway General Client Interface (GCI) made possible by the ISA100 standard.

“Wireless technology is transforming the industrial landscape and we are trying to make it even easier for end users to deploy and use,” said Ray Rogowski, global marketing director for Wireless at Honeywell Process Solutions. “With OneWireless Release 210, users can benefit from the flexibility and scalability offered by the ISA100 standard while maintaining high performance and reliability.”

Ristaino explained that key technical features of ISA100 Wireless include the following:

  • Distributed control in the field (object technology in smart devices)
  • Multiple protocols, including wired HART, supported in a single network (object technology)
  • Functionality beyond traditional wireless sensor network (WSN) applications
  • Time-enhanced, two-layer AES-128 based security, and support for all AES security levels
  • Provision over the air (OTA) capabilities or directly using out of band (OOB)
  • Scalable and reliable network tested to 500 devices (so far)
  • Proven reliability in congested wireless environments
  • IPv6-based technology (6LoWPAN) for industrial applications, supports the Internet of Things

Future Proofing

Soroush Amidi, marketing manager for Honeywell Process Solutions OneWireless products, provided some specific examples of how some of these ISA100 requirements contribute to its flexibility:

  “Taking a hint from both the telecommunications industry and supported by input from user requirements, ISA100 Wireless was designed to follow the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model.  The OSI model is an efficient way to organize and construct the actual communication firmware, also known as a communication stack.  The importance of this construct is that the independence and isolation of each layer in the stack makes each easily replaceable, thus enabling accommodation of future technology. 

“So, while ISA100 Wireless features the latest technology that exists in the telecommunications industry today—such as IPv6 (internet address), 6LoWPAN (data compression), AES (security), and the ability to create star and mesh networks—future technology could easily be adopted with a simple over-the-air firmware upgrade,” Amidi said.

Concretely what does this mean? The end user can select ISA100 Wireless today to deploy as a simple wireless sensor network, i.e. just ISA100 devices meshing with each other and sending the data back to the control system. “But if the user wants deterministic latency,” said Amidi, “which you cannot really achieve with battery-powered wireless devices, especially when you are planning to install hundreds of wireless devices, then ISA100 Wireless allows the user to take advantage of a high speed backhaul thanks to its ISA100 access points (the standard defines them as  ‘backbone router’).”

“That means now you can easily connect your ISA100 access point to a high speed Wireless LAN or WiMAX network and send the data back to the control room. With many of the backhaul’s supporting the IP protocol, the integration is very easy. A real example of leveraging the IPv6 capability is the work that we have done with Cisco. Honeywell collaborated with Cisco to integrate our ISA100 Access Points (BBR) with their WLAN. So when you design a WLAN with the Cisco Aironet 1552S Access Point, you get wireless coverage for your Wi-Fi devices as well as your ISA100 devices,” said Amidi.

 Support for Legacy Protocols

 Amidi also discussed the fact that the industrial process automation market is populated with many examples of existing field protocols.  “End users have received financial benefits from applications, which use a variety of existing wired protocols including Foundation Fieldbus, OPC, HART, Modbus, and many proprietary ones, and will continue to do so in the future.  Each of these industrial protocols was optimized to provide specific features and capabilities for particular process control or discrete manufacturing applications,” he said. 

 “Asking users to remove and replace their existing applications and devices, based upon a new wireless protocol is neither practical nor financially justifiable.  Thus, one of the most important requirements for the ISA100 Wireless standard was the need to be able to support multiple existing protocols. This requirement was addressed in the standard, and today the ISA100 Wireless protocol is able to support all the variety of wireless products independent of manufacturer or protocol, on the same wireless network without loss of application functionality,” Amidi said.

Honeywell’s GCI feature, enabled by the ISA100 standard, allows plants to continue using legacy protocols and proprietary applications while making it easier to wirelessly expand those applications throughout the plant, said Rogowski. The GCI also allows third-party client applications to communicate natively using proprietary or common field protocols with wireless field instruments over the ISA100 network. Enabling operations to continue using existing applications or protocols eliminates the need to reinvest in additional equipment and new client applications or re-train maintenance and operations personnel. It also provides consistency across the plant.