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In-plant wireless technology isn’t just about communicating and integrating process information flows. It’s
also about enabling a broad range of business and plant management applications—some well-defined and already at work, and some as yet to be imagined.
“In a plant,” explains Bob Karschnia, vice president of wireless for Emerson Process Management, “there are a number of self-organizing wireless field devices, such as pressure, temperature, and vibration transmitters, wireless discrete switches and wireless adapters to extract diagnostics from wired devices. All these devices are networked through our Smart Wireless gateway in a self-organizing network based on WirelessHART. That’s the first application space where Emerson provides a complete solution for our customers.”
“But for business and plant management applications,” Karschnia continues, wireless coverage is provided through hardened Cisco outdoor access points that are also meshed together. “This infrastructure allows the plant to deploy applications such as Voice over IP (VoIP), video surveillance and people location, and to use tools such as the DeltaV Remote Client and AMS Device Manager Wi-Fi Client to improve workforce productivity.”
ENTERPRISE-WIDE PLANT ASSET INFORMATION DRIVES DECISION-MAKING
One especially powerful application enabled by a plant-level wireless network is for locating employees and visitors.
“Wireless technologies can now help you track everything in a plant, but the most important assets in any plant are its people,” says Karschnia. “A plant now can have a real-time people location system to locate all employees and visitors during emergencies.”
For example, wireless sensors can be mounted on safety showers. “Field network wireless technologies allow customers to cost-effectively install wireless flow switches on all safety showers,” Karschnia says. “This saves them thousands of dollars in wiring costs. These flow switches are integrated in the control system and the people location system.”
With this new wireless technology, Karschnia points out, “A plant can meet OSHA requirements for initiating an alarm five seconds to 10 seconds after a safety shower is activated. Hard-wiring every plant safety shower or eye-wash station back to the main plant annunciator system is simply cost-prohibitive.”
Because of the plant-wide wireless network, an operator can see the location of every employee’s RFID-enabled identification card. “We can then use the wireless location system to see who the closest first responder to that location is,” Karschnia says.
Many plants already are using wireless technologies to improve security. Wireless closed-circuit television cameras and RFID-equipped access badges enable intelligent security monitoring and control from restricting access to specific areas based on levels of security to tracking attempts to violate security protocols and helping security managers identify potential vulnerabilities and improve systems. Wireless applications also enable you to monitor hazardous applications in order to reduce risk to plant personnel. High-bandwidth video surveillance systems can use Cisco wireless mesh Wi-Fi networks to move data from the fence lines and other remote plant locations into the control room. This allows plant operators to have real-time video feeds from nearly every location in the plant. And this, in turn, permits operators to be more productive by making some types of operator rounds unnecessary. Operators can decide whether to take their wireless communication tools out into the plant after they know where they need to go, because they have already seen a problem or situation on a video feed.
AN INTEGRATED APPROACH TO FIELD AND PLANT WIRELESS
Peter Zornio, Emerson Process Management chief strategic officer, summarizes the disruptive, game-changing potential of today’s wireless technology as “measuring the immeasurable”—including inaccessible process readings, people and asset locations and security data. Further, wireless presents the opportunity to extend Emerson’s PlantWeb architecture and predictive technologies to places where they were previously cost prohibitive— including unmonitored valves, rotating equipment, vessel and pipe health, and stranded smart devices, he says.
“It’s as immediately straightforward as a more cost-effective alternative to wired for newly mandated environmental and safety applications—and as potentially game-changing in the future as to enable applications we don’t even know about yet,” Zornio adds. “It’s all the information on the move, anywhere.”
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