Now some 15 years on, the earliest use-case scenario for in-plant wireless instrumentation was the incremental measurement point. In any brownfield facility, the cost of running wire for a desirable new measurement point was often an order of magnitude higher than the transmitter itself, calling into question the ROI of many a non-essential, “good-to-know” measurement that could, in many cases, improve the performance or safety of an industrial process.
In response, the process industries developed its own WirelessHART (IEC 62591) and ISA 100 (IEC 62734) mesh network-based communication standards for low-power wireless instruments—protocols that today are stable, mature and now co-exist in today’s latest wireless access points. Meanwhile, these wireless networks are designed for cybersecure communications, and with instrument firmware that can be remotely updated over-the-air, ensure that network performance remains robust and secure even as cyber threats evolve.
Even as wireless instrument networks have proved their mettle in a broad range of demanding applications—ranging from wellhead monitoring to tank level gauging and even closed-loop control—process manufacturers have also recognized the important productivity tool that in-plant Wi-Fi represents for their mobile operations staff.
In response, a growing number of wireless network infrastructure providers now include Wi-Fi along with ISA 100 and WirelessHART in their access points, resulting in a unified, scalable wireless architecture designed to fit the current and future needs of both instruments and humans.
Indeed, far removed from that original use case of the incremental measurement point, a growing number of greenfield facilities are being designed from the ground up with wireless infrastructure, in full recognition of the benefits that wireless connectivity can deliver over a plant’s lifecycle.