News Briefs

Dec. 22, 2008

Yet another new acronym to get used to, the IPSO (Internet Protocol for Smart Objects) Alliance has been established to promote the use of the Internet Protocol (IP) for networking various physical objects including small footprint sensors and actuators in energy, transportation, and building, factory and home automation. Founding members include networking giant Cisco; Silver Spring Networks which has been contracted by Pacific Gas & Electric to supply about $250 million worth of local wireless networking as part of its Advanced Metering Infrastructure initiative; Dust Networks, which has pioneered WirelessHART, and another low-power sensor networking leader, Arch Rock Corporation; and GainSpan which has developed a low-power implementation of 802.11 Wi-Fi. On the user side are two major electric utilities, Duke Energy of the U.S. and Electricité de France (EDF), suggesting that the initial focus of the organization will be smart metering of domestic electricity supplies.

The Fieldbus Foundation has released the final Foundation fieldbus Diagnostic Profiles Specification, which has been based on guidelines established by NAMUR Working Group 2.6. Building on the diagnostic features already provided by Foundation fieldbus devices, it allows end users to use EDDL technology to implement true, actionable diagnostics. The Foundation has been working with NAMUR since May 2006 to unify the integration of fieldbus self-monitoring data and ensure the availability of diagnostic information to process plant operators, engineers and technicians, in line with NAMUR’s recommendation that fieldbus diagnostic results should be reliable and viewed in the context of a given application. The NAMUR document recommends categorizing internal diagnostics into four standard status signals and stipulates that configuration should be free, as reactions to a fault in the device may be very different depending on the user’s requirements. It also recommends that plant operators should only see status signals, leaving detailed information to be viewed by device specialists. The specification, which should ensure that future fieldbus devices are consistent with NAMUR guidelines, identifies role-based diagnostics for fieldbus equipment and defines a consistent set of parameters for diagnostic alarming.

The discrete industries are watching wireless developments in the process industries and hoping that some of them will meet their own needs, says ARC’s newly published ‘Wireless Devices in Discrete Manufacturing Worldwide Outlook.’ Developments such as WirelessHART and ISA 100 offer some potential, but differences between discrete and process requirements will limit their applicability. “While the business drivers are in place, including wireless’ status as ‘the ultimate Fieldbus’ from the perspective of wiring reduction, the lag in technology and standards development suitable to meet discrete industry requirements will contribute to an ongoing fissure in growth prospects for discrete vs. process industries over the next five years,” says ARC vice president and report principal author Chantal Polsonetti. “Divergent issues such as higher speed discrete processes that cannot tolerate the latency times of current wireless communications and the longer potential time-line for standardization at the sensor/actuator level are just a few of the potential detractors to potential growth.” As a result, while ARC sees the worldwide market for wireless in discrete growing at over 16% over the next five years, that growth is from a modest base of only $368 million and will reach only around $780 million by 2012.

Although demand for wireless is growing in both the process and discrete industries, users are concerned at a lack of interoperability between different vendors’ offerings, according to Syed Tauseef Ahmad, a research analyst with Frost & Sullivan Europe. As a result, even though options have increased, end users are wary of becoming locked into proprietary systems and worried by possible integration issues with existing infrastructure. They are also extremely cautious of investing in wireless when they are not confident of realizing the benefits. With confusion arising from the existence of several open and proprietary communication protocols, says Ahmad, end users are prepared to wait until a uniform standard is established. Frost & Sullivan data shows that 83% of end users across both process and factory automation rate interoperability as a medium to high concern. That level of concern varies depending on different parameters such as end-user environment, types of wireless devices being used, the application area and the experiences of the end user with wireless devices. However, users in refining and pharmaceuticals expressed a greater concern over interoperability and require wireless devices to integrate seamlessly into existing networks.  End users confirmed that the lack of a universal standard will continue to be a major concern.