No Wires. No Limits

Read the speech transcript of the ISA Wireless Summit, held in Vancouver, BC on July 23th, 2007. Presented by John Berra, Emerson Process Management.

By John Berra

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No Wires. No Limits
Speech Transcript
Presenter:  John Berra, Emerson Process Management
Audience:   ISA Wireless Summit, Vancouver, BC
Date:   23 July, 2007

(Reprinted with permission, Emerson Process Management)

I welcome the opportunity to speak with fellow techies – those who get excited about the opportunity to put a new technology to work, to see the results it delivers. I consider myself a veteran in living through and working through technology changes. I have been an ISA member for 38 years and have gone through the changes from pneumatics to fieldbus. All of them were exciting, but ultimately the ones that scored, so to speak, were the ones that translated into demonstrable business results for the companies that used them.

I am here to tell you today that wireless has the potential to deliver a very broad spectrum of business benefits. We love the technology. I freely admit to being a techie, and I love to talk about it. But if what we do as a technology doesn’t transfer into allowing plants to run better, safer…it isn’t going to survive.

Wireless offers opportunities for better business and plant management, for better workforce productivity, for better plant and process information. It provides access to information that was out of reach or very expensive to access, so you can do things you couldn't do before. The technology is proven and ready to deliver results today – with more capabilities coming.

We count on standards processes to draw all of this together for us. In the absence of a standard you create the opportunity for proprietary standards to emerge, creating even more chaos than that created by the wrangling to create a standard.

Business & Plant Management Opportunities

Wireless allows affordable access to information for better insight into what's happening, especially for safety & security. Video surveillance is one such example. It is easy and cost-effective to add wireless cameras where it would be too difficult, costly, or risky to trench or wire.  Asset tracking is extremely important– even human assets. In the event of an emergency it is critical to stay in constant communication with folks moving around the plant.

For these applications, we need to be realistic about speed of response and compare it to what we are doing today which is, in most cases, nothing.

Workforce Productivity Opportunities

As for workforce opportunities: the idea of mobile operators who can truly operate the plant from wherever they are, with the same visualization in front of them that they have in the control room. The increase in productivity of a completely wirelessly-enabled operator or maintenance staff is obvious and considerable.

I do not believe that we need to come up with a top to bottom answer before we do anything. We are going to have to get out there and work the pieces. ISA100 is working on all the pieces.

Much of the technology for the things I've been describing is has been around for a while, but the next category is much newer.  The technology has only recently reached the point where plants are willing to put it to use. 

Plant and Process Information Opportunities

This hits home for me when I read the data on unplanned shutdowns. When you dig down into what causes unplanned shutdown, you find that it is usually the result of something quite simple, that we didn’t know about. Most of the incidents that occur in plants can be traceable to things like that. What would happen if we could think of the plant like a human body? Imagine if you had a watch that told you what your cholesterol was, how your arteries were doing, the rate at which they were clogging and when you might have a problem.  It is diagnostics, predictive intelligence that can change the way you live. We can get that in the wired world today but for some applications it is cost prohibitive today. Wireless has the chance to reduce installation costs by 80 to 90 percent. Wireless has the potential of freeing up diagnostics that already exist in wired devices that nobody is using.

Let’s look at some examples. Most boilers today come with spots to hook up sensors, but we seldom do it, because it is too expensive. With wireless you can cost effectively monitor boiler tubes for leaks or plugging.

In California, plants have to put a “sock” on the relief valve to provide a visual indicator to the people roaming around, that the relief valve has popped. As a result, an operator has to check each valve periodically. If he finds a valve is missing the "sock" that usually covers it, he reports that the valve has been tripped -- in other words, there was an emission. 

Now we have the ability with wireless to pick up when a “sock has popped” and what else was happening around the valve at the same time. You could install a wireless measurement transmitter next to the relief valve and send the information to the control room.  You'll have documented proof of exactly when any emissions occurred and how long they lasted. Other examples include adding level measurements on tanks where you can't afford a spill and monitoring vibration or bearing temperature on rotating equipment.

No wires frees us to do the things that will make these plants run better and better by putting in the diagnostics needed to make that happen.

There are upward of 20 million HART devices installed in the process industries. But almost nobody has invested in the wiring needed to monitor these devices together. One of the benefits of this technology is to use a wireless adaptor to free the stranded diagnostics and send them back to the control system.

Moving from Opportunities to Reality

Our industry needs a technology that survives in the “canyons of metal” and where “power is gold.” Reliability and security are also critical to overcome.  We have come a long way, thanks to many of the people in this room and many not in this room today – people who've been working on wireless for years, before others even considered it a possibility for plant applications.  You've come up with hardened, industrial-design sensors and radios, advances in battery life, taken care of security and coexistence  We have not achieved 100%, but I don’t think, that we have to wait for the 100%. We all have products in the field that are meeting many of those objections, and perhaps even all of them. I don’t think we need to be scared to put wireless in. I think we have gone a long way, and I think we are on the right track.

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