Plan Ahead for Wireless Success

To Know Where You Want to Go, You've Got to Know What You Already Have Before You Can Figure Out What Else You Need

By Ian Verhappen

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If you don't know what you want prior to implementing a project, how will you be able to define success? The folks at BASF in Freeport, Texas, defined success and determined exactly what they wanted by finding out what they had, what they needed, and how they would get from A to B using a planned approach from the beginning.

The Freeport project is a big one that demonstrates that wireless can work in big installations, as well as pilot-size tests. It required the installation of the appropriate backhaul network—in BASF's case, an IEEE802.11 system for a site-wide wireless suite of applications.

The company wanted to implement a new approach for perimeter security, condition monitoring and workforce mobility using open, license-free wireless technologies, and to deliver the services in a reliable, secure fashion without negatively affecting its neighbors or other site operations.

Chris Witte, site manager at BASF Freeport, explains, "We did not want to create various individual, 'one-off' systems—a common mistake when implementing new technology in a phased approach. So we started our wireless initiative with a thorough site analysis and a well-developed plan prior to implementation."

The project began with Apprion's team of wireless and industrial experts conducting an on-site survey to develop a plan outlining the required network to support the identified list of application projects. As part of the data gathering and planning, performance measurements, including area coverage and network connectivity, were performed within each zone of the plant.

Using the on-site survey and resulting plan, which included comprehensive radio frequency (RF) spectrum analysis, various grid simulation output scenarios with signal power levels, as well as a technical evaluation of the site's existing infrastructure and technology, the team was able to determine the proper placement of RF transceivers and network devices that would comprise a facility-wide wireless infrastructure.

The Apprion ION 802.11 industrial Wi-Fi access points were positioned at key locations throughout the plant in anticipation of the future, facility-wide, wireless infrastructure and applications, including backhaul for gate readers, condition monitoring, remote operator handheld devices, plant communications and video applications. These radios/gateways are part of the industrial wireless Apprion ION system that supports a wide range of devices, vendors and protocols.

The ION access points contain two 802.11 radios and two industrial Ethernet ports (10/100), and can be powered by 48VDC PoE (using power injectors), 24-VDC or AC power. Security features include wireless network intrusion detection (WNIDS), rogue access point detection, SSH brute force attack detection, QoS for concurrent applications and real-time policy enforcement. When BASF is ready to implement field level networks, they will be integrated into this backhaul system.

In addition to knowing where you want to go, you've got to know what you already have before you can figure out what else you need. So take the time to identify your requirements and potential challenges, including possible wireless dead zones or interferences.

Developing a proper plan will increase your chances of success. It will prevent dumping blame on the technology being implemented rather than on poor engineering design and planning, and it will counter the trend of resistance to using wireless and help accelerate the adoption of wireless technology in the process plant environment.

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