An industrial wireless network is essential for any sort of PlantBerry reporting, Lambright adds. Smart phones and PDAs rely on cellular networks. You cant tie that into a system of record, so you have to create a wireless network thats secure and high-performance, and its unlikely thats going to be cellular. Its going to be Wi-Max or 802.11 or some standard designed for the purpose. Youre going to want to create a dedicated network, so youre not creating a risk in the plant.
And that dedicated network is one of the sticking points for some process manufacturers. Putting wireless intrastructure in an industrial facility is not at all like installing one in an office, says Motorolas Eriksen. Were not talking about just putting in a bunch of hot spots. You have to take into account battery life, security, issues about pre-emptive roaming. Getting coverage is much more challenging than in an office. You need to do a much better job of surveying the facility and designing the infrastructure.
The Holistic View
Once we start talking about installing wireless architecture, the potentially ugly conflict between IT and plant operations looms. The way to avoid the conflictor at least minimize its negative effectsis to take a holistic view, says Eriksen.
Too many companies will deploy wireless and handhelds separately. Then they find out theyre not as compatible as they thought, he says. Weve seen too many cases where one group puts in wireless, and another group puts in handhelds, and theyre not talking to one another.
The challenge is that in an organizational hierarchy where the plant is Level 3 and IT is Level 4, the wireless system and accompanying handheld deployment falls at Level 3.5. Whos going to own 3.5? asks Eriksen. It has to be decided. Its another battleground between plant and IT, but plants are in a better position to know.
Taking a holistic approach means addressing not only that who gets to say issue, but looking at all the ramifications of the implementation for deployment. Eriksen says this means understanding a number of things; for example, that security standards should be supported by the devices and that battery life is related to how the devices are used on the network. Properly designed, you can easily get a full shift off of one battery, but if you set up your device in such a way that the device doesnt know how to interact with the network in a battery-efficient way, youll run down your battery in no time, he says.
Another factor to consider is that most handhelds are based on Windows mobile software, but most wireless deployments are 802.11 standard-based technology. Taking a holistic approach to deployment means making sure these things work together. Its not to say you cant mix and match, says Eriksen, but you have to think about that before you put [the system] in. You should have the same group responsible for both.
So how close are we to beach blanket control? Not very.
Its not a driving demand, says NIs Jackson. Its by no means a game-changing technology. Well see slow adoption.
Transparas Saucier concurs, up to a point. The adoption is all over the map, he says. Its never going to be used for control purposes. Youre not going to be phoning in setpoints. Adoption is also a matter of country and culture, he says. In Japan its already there. Europe is in second place for cultural readiness. It will be 10 to 12 years in the U.S.
But then, look out. One good thing about the graying workforce is that the next generation will adopt it immediately, says Saucier.
Information delivery is where handhelds are coming into their own in process operations. In real-world work situations they have three major applications, says Robert Jackson, of product marketing at National Instruments.
At a large process manufacturer on the Gulf Coast, Apprion and systems integrator Rapid Solutions USA, a subsidiary of systems integrator Rapid Technologies in Calgary, Alberta, are implementing a system supporting all three of those goals. This company needs to increase its equipment uptime and produce more with less, explains John Lindsey, executive vice president at Rapid. The machinery needs to be kept up longer and operate accurately in order to produce better product and more of it. The company also needs to capture near-miss details of accidents that almost happen for reporting to OSHA. It also wants to use the data to reduce such incidents and their accompanying risk.
Basically the goal is to put accurate information into the hander of workers and replace sticky notes and pads. When people dont have the correct information, they get hurt, says Lindsey.
To achieve these goals, all the operations and maintenance engineers and capital projects staff are begin given handhelds. Real-time wirelss components can deliver everything on the PC out to the field workers, explains Lindsey. CMMS for parts and work orders, information from the ERP system, pump operation conditions, etc. Workers can document everything theyve done and feed it back to all the systems.
Power to the Power People
One of the early adopters of mobile reporting technologythe power generation industrycame as a surprise to Michael Saucier, founder and CEO of Transpara.
I thought power would be laggards, but deregulation has set these guys on fire, he says. Theyre fighting for their lives. So theyre using these [systems] big time. Some of them have a clear focus on fleet-wide performance management. Its not just a matter of making one physical plant work well, but coordinating all activites to optimize corporate goals. Theyre looking at assets as part of a portfolio instead of standalone. By having a transparent view of the data, people understand why these decisions are made. This doesnt just lead to better performance, but boosts morale because people can see why certain decisions are made.
Saucier says that half of his power clients dont use the mobile technologies, but the other half are putting them on all their mobile devices. It doesnt matter whether you use big screens or small screens, he says. The secret sauce is the composite nature of the data. How you deliver this transparency is role-dependent. Executives want to look at different things than the engineers, but the underlying data is all the same.