The Elephant in the Room

March 28, 2008
There’s an Elephant in the Wireless Room
By Walt Boyes, Editor in chief

It is big and getting annoyed that it is being ignored.

No, it isn’t the end users wondering why ISA100.11a didn’t just adopt WirelessHART. That’s the rhinoceros in the other corner. He’ll keep for a while yet.

The elephant of which I write is the fact that the industry needs direction, best practices, engineering documentation and all of the infrastructure to begin to design, specify, procure, install, start up and commission wireless devices.

But, you say, people have been putting in wireless sensors for some years now. Well, yes, that’s true, but in almost every case so far, they have been installed in extraordinary situations.

For a demonstration project, even a fairly large one, such as those at BP, Alon, ExxonMobil, Chevron and PPG, among others, you don’t need the specifying and procuring infrastructure in place. You walk the orders through the process. You get your supertechs to do the installations, and you get your best operators to work with the systems.

You play Verizon guy with the transmitter: “Can you hear it now?” You mount the transmitters and the gateways where you know they work, rather than where they might be shown on a drawing.

This is a very different process from what will be happening soon, as the first generation of WirelessHART products start rolling out from the various manufacturers in the next few months.

Most end-user companies, all engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firms and most system integrators have what they call some variation of the “approved equipment” list. This is a list that in-house engineering provides to project managers, procurement specialists, outside EPC firms and system integrators with the vendor and model number of the products they believe are appropriate to use in their particular plant.
Most of these folks haven’t got wireless on this essential document. That means that procurement can’t write purchase specifications and go out to bid either.

These stakeholders in the great rush to wireless are asking me for help every time I go to a meeting or give a speech.

They ask, how do I show a wireless transmitter on an equipment schedule? How do I put it on a P&ID? How do I make sure the gateway is shown on the network schedule and on the drawings? What happens if they put the hardware where I tell them to, and it is the wrong place, and we don’t get signal? How do I, as a design engineer, not screw up with wireless?

In fact, this kind of information was what the original charter of the SP100 committee asked it to produce. Somewhere during the heat of the wireless standards war, we on the committee forgot we need to do this.
We need to do it soon, and we need to do it well, or it won’t matter whose wireless gets enshrined in the standards. The end users, EPCs and system integrators won’t have the tools they need to buy wireless transmitters and gateways. So they won’t—buy, that is.