The WirelessHART Ecosystem-- A Scorecard for End Users to Enjoy

Far from being an "emerging standard" (which is the way I'd describe ISA100.11a) the WirelessHART and HART 7 "ecosystem" (as we are now told we have to call the vendor supply chain systems) appears to be growing and flourishing at an astonishing rate. There are over 30 companies engaged right now in bringing WirelessHART products to market. Challenges are being met, like bringing down the cost of producing firmware and radios, gateways, and adaptors.

What do I mean?

The WirelessHART Radio Stack 

First of all, the vendors have to be able to buy the radios and firmware that they build into their WirelessHART devices. There are now TWO vendors that have demonstrated compatible and interoperable firmware and radios. The original WirelessHART radio/firmware provider is Dust Networks ( Dust has now been joined by STG, Software Technologies Group,( and the WiTECK Consortium, led by radio manufacturer and Motorola spin-off, Freescale. STG demonstrated a WirelessHART OEM product line at the giant German chemical industry show Achema in Frankfurt in May. Another company, NIVIS, claims to have a firmware stack as well.

Why is this important for end-users?

It is important because a significant amount of the cost of each WirelessHART device is the cost of procuring this firmware and radio system. Estimates for this cost range up to 50% of the hard cost of manufacturing a WirelessHART transmitter.

The more competition that exists for OEM licenses and even OEM products to provide the firmware and radios necessary to produce a WirelessHART device, the less expensive the devices will be to the vendor, and, because there are some clearly identified price points that vendors would like to achieve in producing the field instrumentation and controls, a lot of that saving will be passed directly on to end users.

One of those price points is $499. That's the point at which equipping existing wired HART devices with WirelessHART adaptors becomes significantly less costly than providing wired HART modems. Every vendor is targeting producing a WirelessHART Adaptor for a selling price of under $499, and some have recognized that producing Adaptors for under $300 is not only practical but will radically increase the market drivers.

Who's Building Field Devices?

Everybody knows that Emerson is shipping WirelessHART devices. But the list of vendors who are in the final strokes of getting products approved by the HART foundation and testing agencies like FM is long, and getting longer.

End users will have the same level of choice in their wireless instrumentation and control purchases with WirelessHART products as they've had with traditional wired HART products within the next 18 months.

End users will be able by the end of 2009 to purchase WirelessHART instruments from:

  • ABB
  • Emerson
  • Endress+Hauser
  • Siemens
  • Yokogawa

There are at least 25 other, smaller vendors tooling up to provide WirelessHART versions of their existing product lines. The biggest problem for many of them has been to secure availability of products from Dust Networks. Now that Dust has tooled up for production, and has competition, many of these smaller companies will turn up the speed on their development projects. For end users this is all good.

As the cost of engineering and procuring the firmware and radios goes down, and the availability of engineering design consulting increases, the speed at which these companies will come to market will also increase. It is likely that end users will be able to buy wirelessHART versions of their favorite field instruments and controls from their favorite vendors within 18 months.

And there is not likely to be, or to continue to be for long, a premium in procuring WirelessHART over wired HART instrumentation because of the high level of competition in the "ecosystem."

The WirelessHART Gateway

The gateway--that's the device that sits on the plant network and receives the wireless signals from all of the instruments and devices in the WirelessHART mesh-- is the next big thing. Currently, there is one vendor of WirelessHART gateways-- that would be Emerson. But within the next five months, at least five other companies (Elpro, Pepperl+Fuchs, Phoenix Contact, Apprion, and Banner) will be producing various flavors of wirelessHART gateways. There are perhaps as many as five other companies that will be producing gateways within the next 18 months.

The fact that there will be 5 or 10 vendors of gateways is important for end users. Remember that because the HART 7 Specification requires both interchangeability and interoperability end users will be able, for example, to put together a system with some devices from ABB, some from Emerson, some from Yokogawa, some from Siemens, etc., and use whichever brand of gateway they wish. End users with choice can use that choice to force the price of WirelessHART gateways down, too. This will make systems, especially in brownfield retrofits of existing HART instruments, much more affordable.

End users will be able to connect their choice of WirelessHART gateway to any Ethernet network, either wired or wireless, using standard Ethernet protocols and COTS networking equipment. This is another obvious cost-saving driver for the end user.

All of this means that from the design and procurement point of view, the end users will be in the drivers' seat.

Honeywell, which is the only top tier automation vendor that has not announced plans to produce WirelessHART devices, has repeatedly said that they would re-consider if their customers ask them to. It will be interesting to talk to some of those customers at the Honeywell Users Group Americas, which starts June 14. It will be interesting to hear from the Honeywell folks which, if any, of the rumors floating around that they're designing a WirelessHART product line are true.

So the WirelessHART ecosystem looks like it is becoming quite mature very quickly. And all this is great news for end users hard pressed to do their jobs economically and efficiently in the face of global economic recession.

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