WirelessHART Is First Wireless Field Device Network Standard to Win International Status

By Andrew Bond, Industrial Automation Insider

Jun 08, 2010

WirelessHART Is First Wireless Field Device Network Standard to Win International Status
The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) hammered what must surely be one of the final nails into the ISA 100.11a coffin when, in the last week of March it approved the WirelessHART specification as a full international standard (IEC 62591Ed. 1.0). Significantly, given the controversy that has surrounded the search for a single wireless field device network standard, the vote of the IEC National Committees of 28 countries was unanimous.

Announcement of IEC approval of what will now increasingly be referred to as IEC 6259 has thus far produced no comment from the ISA 100 committee whose own standard for device networking, ISA 100.11a, failed to win the approval of the America National Standards Institute (ANSI) in November of last year and is understood to be undergoing a "maintenance activity" with a view to it being resubmitted for approval later this year.

Not surprisingly, IEC approval was immediately acclaimed by Emerson Process Management, which had been the most outspoken supporter of WirelessHART ever since it first demonstrated prototype wireless field devices at its Emerson Exchange North American User conference in Orlando in 2005. "The commission's endorsement of this standard confirms what Emerson and many others have known: this technology is a reliable, versatile, and economical tool for improving process operations and enabling a significant return on investment," said Emerson Process Management president Steve Sonnenberg who claimed that Emerson now has more than 1,200 installations of WirelessHART products around the world. "Having an international standard should accelerate this growth by assuring them of future compatibility, allowing them to begin gaining the benefits of this exciting new technology," he added.

The ongoing and often vituperative rivalry between WirelessHART and ISA100.11a has prompted many observers to see parallels with the so called "Fieldbus Wars" of the 1990s. However, that analogy seems to break down now that WirelessHART has gained IEC approval, prompting the question of how the IEC will react if and when it is eventually presented with a second candidate. In the '90s when the key rivalry was between Profibus and Foundation Fieldbus, IEC's solution was to create the famous "eight-headed monster," which included not just those two, but another six incompatible protocols, all of which were included in what eventually became IEC 61158. The difference then, however, was that no individual protocol had been accepted as an IEC standard on its own. This time around it may be more difficult to get the necessary majority for a second standard.

Wireless Benchmarking
Coincident with WirelessHART gaining IEC approval, process industry wireless network and service provider Apprion has released a benchmarking report based on 1200 respondents to surveys in Control magazine over the past 12 months. According to "The State of Industrial Wireless," 64% of respondents from across the full spectrum of process manufacturers now have at least one wireless application installed, up from 52% a year ago, while 72% are now actively considering a new wireless application, as against just 39% last year. Application classes considered were communications - 31%; condition monitoring/asset management - 27%; video -16%; mobility - 14%; and location tracking - 7%. Fastest growing in the past year was asset management/condition monitoring, which seems to include process measurement, up by 56% in the year.

Arguably most significant in the light of the recent standards arguments and the acceptance of WirelessHART as IEC 6259 are the findings on key barriers to adoption. Although there was a broad distribution of responses across all possible answers, budget constraints was the most frequently quoted while safety and standards concerns have diminished significantly. Indeed, far from being barriers, safety, security and environmental concerns are now seen as growing drivers for wireless adoption. You can find the full report at www.apprion.com

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