Wireless sensor networks monitor physical or environmental conditions, such as pressure, level and temperature. They pass data to a central location where it can be analyzed and observed. Wireless enables industrial organizations to monitor processes in places where wired connections are impractical or where humans shouldn’t go.
Administered by FieldComm Group, a leading global automation standards organization, WirelessHART is among the most prominent wireless standards in today’s industrial market. It is a self-organizing mesh technology in which field devices form robust wireless networks to dynamically mitigate obstacles in the process environment.
The global implementation of solutions like WirelessHART is mainly attributed to the simplicity, reliability and security of wireless technology compared to wired technology. Furthermore, the growing trend of smart factories, low cost of industrial wireless sensor networks, and faster deployment all favor industrial wireless growth.
Origins of the Technology
An evolutionary extension to the proven Highway Addressable Remote Transducer Protocol (HART) Communication Protocol, WirelessHART was introduced to the market in September 2007, becoming the first officially released industrial wireless communication standard. The technology protects customer investments by using the same tools, instruments, and know-how as wired HART, and ensures interoperability between vendors’ devices.
WirelessHART is built on international standards (IEC61158, 61804-3, 61591e-1 and IEEE802.15.4) and designed specifically for low-power operation (IEEE 802.15.4). Compliant mesh networks with self-organizing and self-healing characteristics can be seamlessly integrated into the control strategy in the same way as wired HART devices by using HART-IP to communicate with a gateway device. This standardizes communication to HART components and devices using Ethernet. It is an important benefit for users because, in addition to wired connections, they can use Industrial Wireless LAN (IWLAN), which may save time and costs through reduced cabling and communication components.
The WirelessHART network uses IEEE 802.15.4-compatible radios operating in the 2.4-GHz radio band. Each device in the mesh network can serve as a router for messages from other devices. This extends the range and geographic coverage of the network and provides redundant communication routes to increase reliability to 99.99% (4 Sigma) even in a difficult radio environment found in some process facilities. The WirelessHART transmitter does not have an analog mA signal; it only has the digital signal, which is available wirelessly or through a screw terminal.
For flexibility to meet different application requirements, the WirelessHART standard supports multiple messaging modes including one-way publishing of process and control values, spontaneous notification by exception, ad-hoc request/response, and auto-segmented block transfers of large data sets. These capabilities allow communications to be tailored to application requirements, thereby reducing power usage and overhead.
WirelessHART meets the critical wireless requirements of modern industrial plant environments, including reliability, noise immunity and latency, while still using the same maintenance and diagnostic tools as traditional wired HART devices. The technical advantages and cost benefits of WirelessHART provide many new opportunities for process automation in various situations.
The time to engineer and develop the expansion or construction of a process unit can be drastically reduced by installing WirelessHART systems to replace both infrastructure and signal cabling. The up-front cost of a wireless network is often immediately lower than cabling and conduit costs, and the savings in labor and permits are enormous. A signal that previously took days to bring online using traditional wiring can now be commissioned within hours. This time savings and flexibility allows maintenance crews to deploy wireless nodes for temporary troubleshooting or add “stranded” measurement points for safety or improved efficiency.
WirelessHART’s robustness is an important advantage in demanding industrial applications. It enables pervasive connectivity among sensors and actuators, with a field-proven reliability and a secure self-organizing network. As a highly engineered solution, WirelessHART supports the full range of control and monitoring solutions. Plant owners and operators can start with a modest implementation and then scale up as a facility-wide range of traditional and advanced functions are developed and offered by the process instrumentation community.
WirelessHART also addresses growing concerns about security at industrial facilities. It employs multi-tiered, “always-on” security with device authentication and passwords, as well as standard AES128-bit data encryption.
Continued Market Growth
There is no question that industrial wireless is here, it works and works well. Engineered properly, wireless technology will provide a huge technology leap when deployed in the right applications.
The worldwide industrial wireless network market size is anticipated to reach USD 116.75 billion by 2025, according to a report by Grand View Research, Inc., exhibiting a 5.7% CAGR during the forecast period. North America is a leading regional market for industrial wireless technology. Asia-Pacific ranks as the fastest emerging market and is expected to grow with CAGR of approximately 13% over the analysis period largely due to increased industrialization in countries such as India, Taiwan, and South Korea.
The key benefits offered by wireless over wired networks, such as mobility, self-discovery capabilities, compact size, cost-effectiveness and reduced complexity, are anticipated to play a significant role in increasing global demand.
One trend that has major implications for the adoption of wireless technology is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0. Because wireless is a crucial enabling technology for connectivity, it will allow the proliferation of sensors at the device level necessary to funnel data to the industrial Internet. For IIoT applications, wireless offers the promise of no-wires communication. Indeed, mesh-network standards such as WirelessHART will be valuable building blocks to help manufacturers transform their businesses and services in the IIoT era. FieldComm Group has a major role in this regard since it is literally the foundation upon which smart products have communicated to systems and networks for well over 20 years. FieldComm Group IS the IIoT.
Outlook for the Future
There are now more than 50 WirelessHART products or services listed on the FieldComm Group product registration site manufactured by a “who’s who” of major automation suppliers. Data from studies predicts exponential growth for WirelessHART over the next 10 years. Oil & gas, chemical, power generation and food & beverage are among the industries expected to become attractive for the technology.
Many initial applications for WirelessHART devices in the process industries are focused on adding incremental points to improve control strategies, meeting safety and environmental regulations, streamlining maintenance activities, and improving worker safety. These installations are primarily driven by the ability to take measurements that were previously unattainable, often because the target is in a difficult-to-reach location or mobile. As wireless device adoption accelerates, the market emphasis will move from these incremental point additions to more comprehensive wireless installations.
Future developments will extend WirelessHART’s capabilities from monitoring to control functions, enabling users to not only gather critical information but also act on it remotely. This will help make the technology feasible for new applications that historically have relied only on manual observation and periodic reporting, giving industrial organizations real-time, constant visibility to new and better data for improved control systems, safety systems, asset management, machinery health and overall plant performance.
The process industries are not known as early adopters of new, innovative technology. But given the impressive progress of WirelessHART in the market, and the tremendous interest in the IIoT in North America and Industrie 4.0 in Europe, there are new possibilities on the horizon.
For more information, please visit the HART Technology page on the FieldComm Group website.