New technology has historically brought disruptive change in the process automation field—not because of the technology itself, but because of the capability it enables that brings new value to the fore.
This happened as the introduction of microprocessors and digital communications led to distributed control systems and the migration of intelligence into field devices. These technology changes enabled users to gain more insight into their plants—not only about process variables, but also about the current and future health of the devices and the process. The additional information enabled them to make a step change in the performance of their business through more flexible operations, increased safety, decreased operations cost, reduced downtime and decreased cost of change.
However, even with these innovations and the benefits of a digital plant, there are still untapped opportunities to reach new levels of process and business performance. Valuable information that can enhance productivity may still be out of reach because accessing it would be cost-prohibitive or technologically impractical.
WIRELESS ARCHITECTURE INTEGRATES SEAMLESSLY WITH EXISTING INFRASTRUCTURE
For example, what if you could immediately detect leaks and releases before they lead to environmental problems and potentially millions in fines? Pinpoint corrosion inside piping and vibration or temperature excursions that are attacking equipment life? How much more productive could your workers be if they had access to process and control information even when they’re not in the control room or maintenance shop?
Early adopters of wireless technologies already are “thinking beyond the wire,” addressing these and other challenges. And with the recent completion of the WirelessHART standard, the floodgates of newly interoperable wireless instruments and systems are poised to open further.
“It has been exciting to see how in-plant wireless functionality has captured the imagination of managers, engineers and operations personnel,” says John Berra, president of Emerson Process Management, of the company’s Smart Wireless products. “Once they started using the technology, they were able to envision additional applications. These innovative first movers are already confident and are well down the path to broader implementation of wireless. We are pleased that, thanks to them, our Smart Wireless products have a track record of success in installations across industries and worldwide. As a result, we’re expanding—adding to the industry’s broadest wireless solution set.”
Today, much discussion of the potential for wireless focuses on quickly adding a transmitter for a difficult-to-reach process parameter, or on the ease with which a new measurement point can be added to a current installation. But wireless, like Foundation fieldbus before it, also promises to reduce the cost of routine instrumentation tasks significantly—and ultimately has the potential to revolutionize control system strategies.
Whether retrofitting a current system or designing a greenfield project from scratch, wireless now gives system designers out-of-the-box access to multiple instrument variables and a wealth of onboard diagnostics. Who can say what creativity that will unleash? Additional new project benefits come from reduced physical space requirements and from the increased flexibility and ease of expansion inherent in a wireless system.
What Can Wireless Do for You?
In past technology shifts, it wasn’t the technology itself (such as microprocessors or digital communications) that drove the shift; it was applications that took advantage of the technology to deliver value. Similarly, the adoption of wireless technology is being driven by the ability to extend and manage the flow of information around the plant more easily and cost-effectively.
Wireless technology is not a complete replacement for wires, at least not for a while. But it is already enabling new tools that give you the freedom to solve problems you could not address cost-effectively in the purely wired world. The possibilities are limitless. Imagine a plant where:
- Safety relief valve emissions are monitored for more effective regulatory compliance;
- Safety showers are monitored 24/7 so help can be dispatched immediately;
- Wireless vibration sensors give you a real-time indication of equipment reliability every day, not just once a month/quarter/turnaround;
- The status of previously unmonitored plant equipment such as on-off valves is known and historicized in real time, providing a safer, more productive operating environment;
- Operators don’t have to make “clipboard rounds” to collect data;
- Diagnostics in HART devices—including those that couldn’t be accessed before—are available for asset management;
- Workers can access desktop applications and perform tasks—including viewing and responding to alarms from the field—wherever they are;
- The locations of personnel and physical assets in the plant are tracked at all times;
- You can broadcast messages to specific groups of workers wherever they are;
- Security systems track and ensure authorized plant access;
- Video systems not only patrol the fence line, but keep a cost-effective eye on the process;
- Corrosion in equipment and piping is monitored by wireless sensors.
Many of these applications are possible without wireless, but wiring costs or technical limitations make them impractical. Today’s cost-effective and easy-to-integrate wireless technology overcomes these barriers, enabling you to gain better insight into your plant—and ultimately make your workforce more productive.