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Still not sure why process automation vendors are quite so excited about wireless? ARC gives part of the answer with its prediction in its newly published “Wireless in Process Manufacturing Worldwide Outlook” that the market for wireless devices and equipment in the process industries will grow at 32% a year over the next few years, breaking through the $1-billion barrier and reaching more than $1.1billion by 2012.
The continuous process industries have lagged behind discrete manufacturing in deploying wireless both because of the problems posed by its larger, outdoor sites and because of the specialist issues raised by hazardous environments. Now, however, says ARC, the picture is changing with the imminent arrival of standardized wireless sensing products and hardened wireless Local Area Networks (LANs).
The report anticipates an explosion in wireless process sensing, currently a tiny proportion of the total market, but set to become the largest segment within five years as the result of a “deluge” of new sensing products compliant with either or both of the WirelessHART or ISA100 standards, both of which are based on ZigBee. The report repeats ARC senior analyst Harry Forbes’ previous assertion that the dramatically lower installation cost of wireless process sensing “will cause the normal change-averse process industries to use it wherever they can, leading to more rapid adoption.”
Less spectacular, but significant nonetheless is the rapid growth that ARC predicts in Wireless LAN usage, driven by the availability of new access point products that can be safely installed in hazardous areas and by the longer range and clearer signals of future IEEE 802.11n wireless. Forbes also sees significant potential for wireless in coordinating the huge numbers of different tasks, contractors, suppliers and materials involved in major equipment turnarounds for which ever-shorter outage periods are acceptable. “Manufacturers in the process industries know that they need better visibility into operations that occur inside their own fence,” said Forbes. “ARC’s end- user research indicates that manufacturers believe better visibility has huge potential value in the form of more consistent use of best practices, higher plant utilization and improved operational safety.”
It’s almost exactly a year since INSIDER last approached Profibus UK chairman Bob Squirrell in search of a reasonably reliable estimate of the number of ProfiNet nodes installed in the field. That follow-up to an earlier unsuccessful enquiry had been prompted by the claim that Ethernet IP and Modbus TCP had between them a 51% market share and thus, by implication, more nodes than ProfiNet. After a short hiatus, Squirrell extracted a response from Carl Henning at the Profibus Trade Organization (PTO) in the U.S. who, having asked his own series of rhetorical questions along the lines of “What is a node?” assured us that “We’ll have an answer to define and accurately count ProfiNet nodes probably early next year. And we’ll state our methodology (and what exactly we’re counting) then.”
That promise seems to have been fulfilled with data released by Profibus International (PI) towards the end of last month, and it’s clear that PI has gone to some lengths to define what it means by a ProfiNet node― “an automation end device with a ProfiNet interface”―and what it doesn’t ―“Devices such as switches, hubs and routers; i.e., structural components of the Ethernet infrastructure, are not counted.” Moreover, one suspects in an attempt to forestall any criticism from such quarters as the Fieldbus Foundation, it has made a significant effort to establish the objective credentials of the counter by appointing a notary to determine the number of installed nodes. It’s also worth noting that, whereas other figures have previously been quoted on the basis of nodes “installed and shipping,” devices ordered or even, in the case of earlier Profibus data, of ASICS sold, this latest data mentions only installed nodes.
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