Changing Attitudes: Pervasive Sensing and the Internet of Things
The major automation companies that have field sensor or controller products have been talking about another sea-change that is coming to process automation technology. This is called, variously, ubiquitous data, Big Data, pervasive sensing, lick-'n-stick-sensors and the Internet of Things.
One contributor to this Big Data shift is the use of wireless (and considerably less expensive) sensors to pick up and transmit data that was not considered practical or cost-effective to collect in the past. Lots of data. Enough data so that we can use the high-definition mathematical models of process behavior in real time.
But as Emerson's Peter Zornio put it, "We have three issues to handle in order to really have pervasive sensing: First we need to do away with the wiring of the sensor, especially in hazardous areas or where the sensor is hard to get to. With WirelessHART, we've been able to do that. Second, we need to make the sensors themselves less expensive. We are beginning to do that with new types of sensors and housings. The one thing we need is to develop sensors and methods for seeing inside pipelines and vessels without the need to make more holes in them."
If Zornio is right, we have embarked on a whole new vision of how a plant is controlled and operated. This opens up a new world of applications for sensors and new ways of analyzing the data they present. And Zornio isn't alone.
Industry leaders from Cisco, Invensys, Siemens and Rockwell have talked about this very same vision in their user groups since the summer, and many have talked about it for a long time before that.
"The next few years will be the most exciting time in manufacturing in the past 50," says Invensys Vice President Peter Martin. "We are finally going to come into our own as automation professionals. We will be operating process plants with business values in real time." And we will have all the data we need to do it, too.