The biggest problem that end users face is how to set up a wireless network prior to construction, whether in a greenfield or brownfield project. There are two time-honored ways to do this. The first is to commission somebody (maybe the vendor of the wireless network, maybe someone more expensive) to perform a wireless network feasibility survey. The second is to do a jackleg survey as you are installing devices. That's like the Verizon Wireless commercials of a couple of years ago where the Verizon Man walks around asking, "Can you hear me now?"
The problem with the latter, of course, is that contractors don't like little white clouds on the P&IDs that say, "Put a wireless transmitter approximately here." They take exception to having to do what they consider design engineering, and they usually make it a change order. If you have 200 wireless transmitters, that could be a lot of change orders, and cost a lot too.
Aerodel Designer, a companion product to Aerodel Director, featured in our September 2010 issue (www.controlglobal.com/articles/2010/EnterpriseLevelWirelessNetwork1009.html), expects to change that. The product, from SoftDEL Systems, is a vendor-independent wireless network design tool.
The first release, which is available now, supports IEEE802.11 and IEC62591-WirelessHART networks. Other protocols, such as ISA100.11a and ZigBee, will be added in future releases. In addition, in future releases, specific hardware devices and antennas will be supported to increase the accuracy of the network design over the generic radios and devices currently being used.
"We intend to be inclusive of all wireless network protocols," says Chirag Nanavati, CEO of SoftDEL Systems. "We expect to be able to provide add-ins for many different networks, even proprietary protocols. We are working to incorporate specific devices by name and specification, too."
The product works by dragging and dropping access points (gateways) and endpoints (transmitters) on a scale drawing of the plant floor. Once you create the network, as you drag and drop more endpoints, Aerodel Designer shows you the estimated signal strength of the link. The product exports a PDF equipment list and, in an upcoming release, will export in .dwg format to AutoCAD and any other software that will accept .dwg.
SoftDEL expects to market directly to plant engineers, maintenance engineers and consulting engineers, system integrators and EPCs, as well as to private-label the network designer to OEMs. Plant staff can use it, either alone or in concert with Aerodel Director, the full-featured enterprise wireless network manager, to troubleshoot and add to their wireless networks, without playing the "can you hear me now?" game.
Nanavati cautions, "Aerodel Designer will provide usable data that is 80% to 90% accurate. It is not intended to eliminate the need for site surveys in specific cases. What we can do is to make the necessary survey quick, easy and inexpensive to perform.
"You can download a demo version of Aerodel Designer from our website, www.softdel.com/aerodel/designer.asp. It will allow you to experiment with the software tool, and use it to plan networks for up to 10 devices. However, you can easily purchase an unlocking code from the website, so you can use the full-featured Aerodel Designer."
SoftDEL has plans to open a user forum for Aerodel Designer users, so they can interact with each other and with SofDEL's engineering staff.
More information about both Aerodel Designer and Aerodel Director may be found at www.aerodel.com. For specific questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.