Pharmaceutical manufacturing plants, both full-scale production facilities and laboratories, are generally networked using IT platforms such as Ethernet and Wi-Fi. These are essentially office networks that have been extended into manufacturing environments to serve a variety of functions, but were not designed with manufacturing support as their primary purpose.
In contrast, HART and WirelessHART were designed for process manufacturing applications, and are thus better networking protocols for instrumentation and device-level communication.
Like the manufacturing systems they support, networks have to be flexible. While the pharmaceutical industry is known for being very static due to regulatory constraints, things change more than many realize. But wired networks, while highly reliable, are not easy to change or expand. Adding coverage for new equipment, moving equipment in a new location, or enlarging a building requires pulling wires, which is very expensive. This becomes increasingly important when setting an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) strategy to improve the overall safety, reliability, and energy use at a plant.
Adding wired infrastructure is often a large cost barrier when examining the feasibility of an extended monitoring program, not to mention the challenges with cleanability of power and signal cabling.
Many pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities are deploying WirelessHART instrumentation designed to monitor various types of in-plant systems and utilities to control costs, boost performance and improve efficiency. A wide variety of devices can be used to monitor steam traps, check the various elements of pumps, measure processed water usage and the like. These monitoring devices can operate on the same networks as the WirelessHART process instruments, reporting their data through gateways and on to the larger plant networks.
In particular, laboratory and pilot-plant environments have been quick to recognize the value of WirelessHART networks and their ability to provide an exceptionally high degree of flexibility. In these areas where equipment is small, moveable and reconfigurable, wired networks are difficult to use without frequent extensions, modifications, and adding or moving wires.
One of the characteristics of the IIoT is its ability to reach the very edges of industrial networks. While implementing IIoT concepts does not require wireless device-level networks, they make the task far easier than traditional wired topologies. Sending data from WirelessHART devices to the gateway and on to the plant network allows for easy access to each of those devices.
WirelessHART networks also simplify deployment of new analytical tools such as pre-configured dashboards and condition-based maintenance programs. IIoT depends on data granularity, and these networks make it possible and practical to connect with individual field instruments, delivering the required level of detail.
This ability is changing manufacturing on all fronts, and it can have a profound impact on pharmaceutical producers. The IIoT facilitates data collection, analysis and movement more quickly than any mechanism to date. The ability to reach the cloud is very easy, supporting data access from anywhere.
For more information, please visit the Fieldcomm Group website.