By Jim Montague, executive editor
Go fish. Finding specific examples and case studies in process control is no picnic. Users are limited because their technologies are so specialized, and many enjoy competitive advantages that they’d rather not disclose.
Consequently, I was sad, but not shocked when I attended a recent Sensors Expo event, approached more than a dozen young, hip, cutting-edge firms exhibiting wireless technologies, and found not one example of an end user implementing their solutions. Not one. Even worse, I followed up with each company since then, and all but one still had no case studies available. It’s like fishing in a dry, cracked riverbed. This inhospitable environment is why I was pleasantly surprised when Emerson Process Management, Honeywell, and Invensys started coming up with wireless case studies.
Emerson named seven end users that implemented its wireless solutions, and achieved efficiency gains, time and labor savings and other benefits. Emerson also has extended its PlantWeb architecture with new Smart Wireless mesh network solutions and has joined with Cisco to deliver open-standard wireless solutions at its Global Users Exchange on Sept. 10. Smart Wireless uses IEEE 802.15.4 with added channel-hopping and Time Synchronized Mesh Protocol (TSMP), which allows it to tolerate interference, coexist with other wireless networks and demonstrate 99.9% field reliability.
For example, PPG Lake Charles used Emerson’s wireless equipment to perform temperature profiling of steam headers, redundant level measurement on caustic tanks and vibration monitoring of brine centrifuges. The plant’s Smart Wireless network also coexists with other wireless systems.
“When Emerson first told me its wireless solution was plug-and-play, I laughed,” says Tim Gerami, PPG’s senior design engineer. “Nothing I’d seen was that easy, but I’m a believer now. Five minutes after installing it, the wireless network came to life, and it’s been there ever since.”
Likewise, Wheeling Pittsburg Steel uses Emerson’s Smart Wireless to help manage coiling water flow and grease system health in its hot-strip mill and to handle cooling water flowing in its roughing mill. Secondary systems had needed diagnostics to minimize unscheduled downtime and improve production and quality, but Wheeling found that wired devices were too difficult to install and maintain in this congested, hot environment. However, wireless components could do these jobs, and the steelmaker reports that downtime was nearly eliminated, and productivity improved by as much as 10% since they were installed.
“We’re building an infrastructure that adds opportunities for more applications,” says Gary Borani, Wheeling’s operations manager. “The result is better information from difficult-to-reach areas, which prevents unscheduled downtime, meets quality requirements and optimizes productivity.”
Likewise, Honeywell reports that its OneWireless system has its beta testers, too. Byron Lewis, process control specialist at Alon USA’s refinery in Big Spring, Tex., spoke at the Honeywell Users Group (HUG) meeting earlier this year. “We’ve had 100% uptime,” says Lewis. “We installed the gateway, and then I took a sensor and walked around every one of the proposed installation sites, and we saw if the gateway was receiving or not. It was that easy.” In addition, PPG Lake Charles, working with Invensys this time, revealed one of the most advanced wireless prototype projects in the chemical industry at this year’s Foxboro User Group meeting. Phase 1 of the project was a WiMax system connected the main plant with outlying stations and control rooms. This enabled PPG to get rid of most leased lines, with an average cost savings of $35,000 to $40,000 per year. The current project is a WiFi pilot in complex’s Plant A Caustic plant.
“We picked caustic so that we could prove we can industrialize the installation in corrosive environments,” says PPG’s Rob Brooks. “We had approximately $216,000 savings in 2006, and an additional $343,000 so far in 2007, just in wiring savings. The real importance is that we want to stop being control room centric. Wireless allows all information to be available in the field.”
Because wireless stories are scarce among the supposedly cutting-edge startups, it’s ironic that Emerson, Honeywell, Invensys and a few others are the ones coming up with specific case studies lately. Now, where’s my net and frying pan?