I have just returned from the 25th IFPAC conference in Baltimore in part to renew my Process Analyser roots and acquaintances but mostly to see how the technology has evolved in the past few years and has expected it has migrated to smaller, faster, smarter minimally invasive instruments -minimally invasive meaning spectroscopy. Great strides are being made in migrating traditional laboratory only techniques such as Raman Spectroscopy and Tuneable Laser Diode analysers not only to the process world but also to being able to measure different material phases.
Despite being a process analyser sample system specialist, I was at the event to participate in the networking and communications discussions – how to connect the analysers and their components to each other and the DCS. As we all know, most analysers are complex devices and in practically all cases have AC power and complex CPU’s meaning they are capable of supporting practically any network that might be required or an OPC Server.
Connecting process analysers to the new smarter Sample Systems as typified by NeSSI is one challenge, while the other is something that has been around much longer – how to connect the widely dispersed analyser shelters to a central maintenance system? NeSSI have agreed to use an Intrinsically Safe CANbus implementation however to date the maintenance system communications are stuck at a definition for the data fields associated with a Gas Chromatograph – which as stated above and in one of the presentations is a technology that whenever possible is being replaced with the simpler, lower cost and more reliable spectroscopic techniques when feasible. (Like DCS systems, many GC’s are nearing the end of their life so this is the time that decisions must be made.)
The NeSSI team meet approximately 4 times/year with most of their effort now going into the Sensor Actuator Manager (SAM) which includes microanalytical techniques that can be mounted on NeSSI’s 1.5 inch square substrate grid and a unified way to get the associated information into the central databases. A convergence of needs between the “small” analysers and the large systems. Wireless is being seen as one way to link all these parts together, however the common protocol and data formats still need to be resolved – it is hoped OPC’s Xi will be the saviour for the more complex analysers and I suppose as an interim measure for NeSSI a CANbus/Xi server will be the solution as well.
Everyone agrees something has to be done – but in today’s busy environment no one has the time or bandwidth to do anything about it. Any suggestions on how to break this impasse?
P.S. Next two meetings of this group are at the ISA Analysis Division Symposium in Houston in April and at IMTec in Lyon France in June.