Process industry plants are under pressure to increase production, make processes more efficient, reduce energy usage, cut maintenance costs, improve safety, and meet a host of government and industry regulations. To meet these requirements, plants must monitor all aspects of a process, acquire data from field devices, analyze the data to turn it into actionable information, and take steps to address problems.
However, many processing facilities are large, complex operations. Where do plant personnel start?
An increasing number of industrial sites are turning to wireless technology to provide reliable process and asset monitoring. The key to a successful wireless implementation is executing a strategy where wireless sensors are used to acquire data from all parts of the plant at a reasonable cost.
Many older, existing plants could benefit from adding many more measurement points, given the proven financial benefits. One reason they don't is that, in the past, these inputs would have to be wired from the sensing point, such as a pressure instrument installed at a pump, to a control and monitoring system. Adding this wiring to an existing facility usually is a very expensive undertaking because wired sensors require power, wiring to I/O systems, and additional I/O points at the control and monitoring system. Such modifications often require significant downtime, which isn't an option as many plants operate at or near full capacity.
WirelessHART sensors, on the other hand, have built-in power modules, so they don't require power wiring. And, being wireless, they don't require additional I/O capacity from the plant's control and monitoring systems. These sensors are connected through a plant-wide wireless mesh network to control and monitoring systems via a gateway. WirelessHART sensors allow points of measurement to be added at a fraction of the cost and time required for their wired equivalents, and sensors not requiring process penetrations can be installed without any downtime.
After a WirelessHART infrastructure is in place, adding more sensors is quick and inexpensive in a wide range of monitoring applications. By installing WirelessHART acoustic sensors, for example, plants quickly can identify steam traps failing open or closed, leaking, or working improperly. WirelessHART temperature sensors can be installed on cooling towers, with their measurements used in efficiency calculations to confirm whether fans are running at correct speeds. And, the sensors can be utilized to provide online turbine compartment temperatures to detect leakage of hot air, an inexpensive early detection strategy.
One of the great benefits of WirelessHART technology is that end users can install devices themselves in a fraction of the time it takes to wire an instrument. Many plants need to hire contractors for wired instrument installation because they do not have a big staff. It takes about an hour to install a wireless device, compared to two weeks to run wire and completely install a wired transmitter.
Installing wireless transmitters and analytics software in a plant improves efficiencies, finds problems, cuts maintenance costs, and extends the life of valuable equipment. While such a solution may be new to some industrial organizations, with the help of a wireless supplier and following basic procedures, a WirelessHART system can be installed at a reasonable price with a quick ROI.