John Berra on wireless: "No wires. No limits."

"I consider myself a veteran in living through and working through technology changes," Berra started out, noting that he had been an ISA member for 38 years. He went through the ringing of the changes from pneumatics to fieldbus. "All of them were exciting, but ultimately the ones that scored, so to speak, were the ones that translated into demonstrable business results for the companies that used them." "I am here to tell you today that wireless has the potential to deliver a very broad spectrum of business benefits. We love the technology. I freely admit to being a techie, and I love to talk about it. But if what we do as a technology doesn't transfer into allowing plants to run better, isn't going to survive." Better plant management Access to information that is either out of reach or very expensive to do The results are being implemented today. We count on standards processes to draw all of this together for us. In the absence of a standard you create the opportunity for proprietary standards to emerge, creating even more chaos than that created by the wrangling to create a standard. Business & Plant Management Opportunities: Video, safety and security are very important and are a very important part of the process going forward. Asset tracking is extremely important-- even human assets. In the event of an emergency it is critical to stay in constant communication with folks moving around the plant. "We need to be realistic about speed of response and compare it to what we are doing to day," Berra said, "which is, in most cases, nothing." Rolling stock sometimes gets in the way of networking. The concept of a mesh network is really important because plants change. Workforce Productivity Opportunities  As for workforce opportunities: the idea of mobile operators who can truly operate the plant from wherever they are, with the same visualization in front of them that they have in the control room. The increase in productivity of a completely wirelessly-enabled operator is obvious and considerable. We aren't going to be able to come up with a top to bottom answer before we do anything. We are going to have to get out there and work the pieces. ISA100 is working with all the pieces. Plant and Process Information Opportunities "This hits home for me when I read the data on unplanned shutdowns," Berra said. "When you dig down into what causes unplanned shutdown, you find that it is usually the result of something quite simple, that we didn't know about. Most of the incidents that occur in plants can be traceable to things like that." "What would happen if we could think of the plant like a human body?" It is diagnostics, predictive intelligence, that we try to get to in the wired world, that are cost prohibitive today. Wireless has the chance to reduce installation costs by 80 to 90 percent. Wireless has the potential of freeing up diagnostics that already exist in wired devices that nobody is using. This combination of battery power and diagnostics creates tremendous power. Berra talked about boilers. Boilers come with spots to hook up sensors, but we seldom do it, because it is too expensive. In California, plants have to put a "sock" on the relief valve to provide a visual indicator to the people roaming around, that the relief valve has popped. Now we have the ability with wireless to pick up when a "sock has popped" and what else was happening around the valve at the same time. No wires frees us to do the things that will make these plants run better and better by putting in the diagnostics needed to make that happen. Berra reported applications like "catalyst life" and others. There are upward of 20 million HART devices installed in the process industries. But almost nobody has invested in the wiring needed to monitor these devices together. "One of the benefits of this technology is to use a wireless device to free the diagnostics and send them back to the control system." Moving from Opportunities to Reality We need a technology that survives in the "canyons of metal" and where "power is gold." Reliability and security are also critical to overcome. We have not achieved 100%, but I don't think, Berra said, that we have to wait for the 100%. We  all have products in the field that are meeting many of those objections, and perhaps even all of them. "I don't think we need to be scared to put wireless in. I think we have gone a long way, and I think we are on the right track." Standards are Essential In the DVD world there's a standards battle going on between HDVD and Blu-Ray. What's happening is that they aren't selling very many of either format. The vast majority of end users aren't buying them and the vast expenditure by the suppliers isn't being paid back. That's why Emerson has supported standards efforts for a long time. We continue to contribute people, time, money and intellectual property. We have introduced pre-standard wireless products. People ought to get started. "Making standards is tough. I have as many scars on my back as anyone from the fieldbus wars," Berra confessed. Some may view me as deserving those scars. Others may say well, your company helped to push it all through. I'd like to talk to you directly and personally about how to avoid what became the fieldbus wars." "What did we learn from that experience? People were trying to write a standard for something that didn't exist. Don't invent the standard unless you have to, unless there is nothing that can serve. The second thing that caused the problem was that there was lots of debate over stuff that just plain didn't matter. Focus on the stuff that will get the thing done. Pick one and drive on. Don't try to reinvent something that is already well proven and already exists. Stay close to the end users." The end users want a standard as much or more than anybody else. They don't necessarily have the ability to get into bits and bytes, but they can certainly tell you what their use cases are. "This is going to sound strange coming from a supplier," Berra said, "but dominate with end users. You need suppliers, but you need end users more. Make sure the standards process is generously sprinkled with end user involvement." "Speed is also important." Things in the fieldbus wars didn't go very quickly. How do you achieve speed? Don't overengineer and don't debate over things that are not important to the fundamental principles. Look and see what is already out there. Leverage the hard work that has already been done. "The wired world is not going to go away," Berra said. "There will always be wired networks, wired instruments, and wired valves. So whatever we do, we need to maintain co-existence not only with wireless networks, but also with the wired networks already in existence."
  1. Move as quickly as possible to provide practical standards at the field level.
  2. Take advantage of wireless standards already in place at levels above the field sensor network, and fill in the gaps.
"We need to get on with it. The wireless potential of unlocking predictive intelligence so people can have a fighting chance to make their plants run better-- these are what an automation professional is standing ready to deliver, and wireless is a key to delivering those benefits."