1660255111154 News 027 Berra

Emerson 'solves all wireless problems'

March 27, 2006
The ARC Conference in Orlando was filled with fireworks from big automation vendors, including addressing issues ranging from security and safety to robustness and reliability.
At the ARC Forum in Orlando, Feb. 20-23, Emerson Process Management’s CEO, John Berra announced, “Emerson has solved all the problems of wireless in the process plant.” Berra described a litany of issues ranging from security and safety to robustness and reliability as the key issues. Emerson’s beta test sites have resulted in greater than 99.9% reliability, Berra claimed.

Calling the configuration of most process plants, “canyons of metal,” Berra described the difficulties inherent in attempting to paste a wireless monitoring and control solution onto an existing plant, or one designed in the normal manner. He proclaimed the solution was a self-organizing network topology. Emerson hasn’t developed this technology in-house, and although publicly Emerson doesn’t admit which wireless company it’s working with, industry insiders know it to be Dust Networks.




John Berra, CEO, Emerson Process Management

Here are some excerpts from Berra’s presentation:

Why Wireless?
"Many projects for ROI get shot down," Berra says, "because the installation costs, especially the cost of wireless, are too much."

As a result, companies resort to "clipboard data acquisition," either manually sending a human data taker around to get data that isn't connected to the control system, either with a real clipboard or with a handheld, electronic equivalent. This is how we get data from the blind spots in the plant, where it wasn't originally intended to be able to get data, back when the plant was designed.

“Take a look at how many HART devices you own,” Berra said. “All of that information is locked inside, and you can't get it out easily.”

 We need, Berra went on, to have the ability to integrate old with new, "without tons of new engineering."

Where Should Wireless Go?

  • Remote global locations
  • Near-plant locations, like tank farms
  • In-plant locations

Wireless for Distributed Inventory
“Lots of plants have vendor-managed inventory—parts in stock at the vendor or in a bonded stockroom on the plant site,” adds Berra. “This information can be most easily added to the control and asset management systems by radio.”

Many plants still have standalone chart recorders, where data is stockpiled and then is warehoused, and you can't get it out easily. Berra claimed that the best kind of chart recorder replacement is a wireless datalogger. Of course, companies that make recorders might take issue with this. Some companies, both vendor and end-user, even believe that the best replacement for a chart recorder is another, newer chart recorder, with more modern features, including datalogging.

Wireless for Remote Assets
Berra showed some pictures of the most remote-looking well heads and pumping stations. "These are very remote assets," he noted, "but there is important information that can be captured there, and wireless is the easiest way to get it back to the enterprise."

20 Million HART Devices
There are 20 million HART-enabled devices in the plant, all with "stranded diagnostics" as Berra puts it. We need, he said, to move past the barriers with workarounds, and seamlessly integrate all this data from legacy systems. Monitoring these assets for better economics and business performance is critical, and wireless is the critical link, Berra claims.

Wireless is not new, yet, as John Berra noted, there is less than a 1% adoption in the process industries. The issues, he adds, are Security, Power availability and consumption, Standards, Robustness and Environment:

  • Security really means "safety" and "won't blow up the plant."
  • Power is often not where it’s needed, and battery life is critical.
  • Standards can’t be multiple. "Our industry," Berra says, "can’t support multiple towers in the plant."
  • Robustness means you can't "drop a call."
  • Environment. Echoing Graham Moss in our recent podcast, Berra called process plants "canyons of metal."

“Emerson,” says Berra, “has solved all these problems.”

"Power is Gold," Berra adds. “We need robust, low-power systems; we need to use power sparingly; and we need to be able to replenish the energy we use.” According to Berra, we should expect to see interesting developments from Emerson (and, although Berra didn't say it, from others) on energy harvesting technologies, from lots of small energy producers in the plant, like vibration, heat, etc.
Berra proclaimed, "You should demand that the power life of devices be greater than 10 years."

Now About Those Standards...
"There are two ongoing standardization efforts that Emerson supports for wireless,” says Berra. “One is the HART Wireless standardization effort, and the other is ISA's SP100 effort."

Here's the bottom line, according to Berra. "What's the cost of information?" How can you bring that cost down? In Emerson's prototype testing so far, Berra says, "We've seen a 90% installation cost reduction."

So, to the meat. Emerson proposes to supply a completely integrated approach, using different technologies as appropriate, but with common protocols and the ability to communicate seamlessly with the host control system.

Wireless systems exist, but, "they've never been smart," Berra notes.

Emerson is going to bet on self-organizing networks—the famous mesh networking protocols that brought you the telephone, the Internet and the cell phone. They expect to deal with the "canyons of steel" by providing wired gateways for local wireless nodes that will be created, instrument-to-instrument.

"We’ve already proven, with our prototype partners, that we can provide greater than 99.9% data reliability and robustness. We have this data, and it works," Berra proclaimed.

With the huge installed base of HART enabled instrumentation, it’s necessary to deal with how to incorporate legacy HART systems into wireless HART upgrades, and seamlessly integrate that data into the host control and asset management systems, with no special software.

Berra announced, "We’ve thought through a complete wireless data architecture."

When Will Users See Product?
In summer 2006, Emerson will release a wireless technology suite. First instruments available will be dP level and dP flow, pressure and temperature transmitters. Quickly following will be integration software and gateways. Later, upgrades and new installs will be released for flow (including Coriolis), analytical instruments, digital valve controllers, and a wireless HART module for upgrades.

Berra made a big deal of the fact that Emerson would be delighted to offer system integration services to end users to be able to put these systems in, too.

There will be a new section on PlantWeb University for wireless technology shortly.

Who's been the guinea pigs? Five major oil companies, two industrial gas companies, etc.

Questions Abound
Immediately after the meeting, closed to everyone but Emerson customers and the media, the competition and some large end users began to ask questions. What standard is Emerson using for this initiative? Every end user and competitor is worried that Emerson intends to hijack HART Wireless and SP100.

Bob Karshnia, Emerson’s technology director, declared emphatically in a recorded interview, which was prepared by CONTROL for a podcast in early March, that Emerson vigorously supports the HART Wireless and SP100 efforts. “Emerson always has been a keen supporter of standards,” he says. Is there an upgrade path for early adopters of Emerson's new, and necessarily proprietary, systems to move to the open, standardized systems that HART Wireless and SP100 will provide? Is the upgrade path real, and not "pull it out and replace it...or continue to use the proprietary systems?" Karshnia noted that there was, in fact, an upgrade path, but categorically refused to discuss it.

Will Emerson try to force their interpretation of HART Wireless and SP100 down the committees' throats? Karshnia’s succinct answer was, “No.” Rumors reaching CONTROL from Emerson’s competitors and participants in the two standards efforts indicate otherwise, but also that there is more than one company “foot dragging.” Some of Emerson’s competitors and several Emerson employees see this move as a prod to make sure the HART Wireless and SP100 committee efforts stay on track, while others see this announcement as a way to force Dust Networks, and Emerson’s implementation, to be the one that the HART Wireless working group adopts in Venice, Italy, at their next meeting.