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2020 wireless trio: combine and cooperate to conquer

Dec. 15, 2020
Wireless protocols and OT and IT professionals are teaming up to develop achieve more effective applications

This is Part 2 of a three-part series. View parts 1 and 3 here.

Beyond launching new protocols and strategies, some developers are making gains by combining existing wireless methods in new ways. For example, Honeywell Process Solutions reports it's OneWireless network supports ISA100 Wireless, WirelessHART and Wi-Fi protocols and devices. Though they still can't talk between protocols or interoperate, field instruments and other devices using ISA100 Wireless or WirelessHART can more easily access and talk to PLCs and DCSs speaking their language, especially with Honeywell's Field Expandable Wireless I/O (FEWIO).

"Previous converged standards efforts didn't happen and the established protocols continued, so we've tried to work around and use the same wireless network to let transmitters connect to larger networks, just like wired signals. Plus, it's better than the old radios that were slow and battery hungry," says Diederik Mols, global market development manager for wireless at Honeywell Process Solutions. "OneWireless allows field instruments using ISA100 Wireless to wake up when needed and communicate time-critical data, but it also lets users configure WirelessHART to talk to Honeywell's field routers.

"In addition, OneWireless R320 released earlier this year certifies it for ISA100 Wireless-based open-loop control and closed-loop supervisory control. This release also established a redundant Special Interface Network (SIN) for Honeywell's Wireless Device Manager (WDM) gateways that lets them segregate data at the gateway level, instead of trying to send everything up to the DCS or cloud. It also accommodates up to 3,000 wireless I/O with one Single Sign-on (SSO), so users can manage their whole network more efficiently."

For instance, Alcoa established ISA100 Wireless as its global wireless standard for refining operations in 2014, and implemented engineering standards, wireless infrastructure and monitoring devices, and developed wireless support processes and training modules. In 2015, it established a wireless advisory board to provide corporate governance and develop wireless instrument selection criteria, and in 2016-18, it worked with suppliers to develop wireless devices for its specific needs, such as a lower-cost, lightweight wireless pressure transmitter, wireless safety shower panic button, multiuse, wireless pushbutton, and an ISA100 serial interface for in-house specialty analyzers. It also enabled Wi-Fi in Alcoa's process areas, supporting a global, corporate, connected-worker initiative. Typical applications included using a standard, wireless differential pressure (DP) transmitter to measure rotating rake height, and using a temporary wireless DP cell to measure pressure drops across heat exchangers.      

"Our engineered, wireless infrastructure has provided the necessary foundation for us to introduce digital transformation initiatives such as connected worker and connected plant to our operations, and pave our way toward the refinery of the future vision,” says Ali Nooraii, Ph.D., director of Global Alumina and Bauxite Process Systems at Alcoa. 

Similarly, Phillips 66's Borger facility is located about 50 miles northeast of Amarillo, Texas, processes mostly medium-sour crude oil and natural gas liquids (NGL), and has a gross NGL fractionation capacity of 22,500 bpd. However, it also had reliability and end-of-life support issues with 147 tank gauge instruments at nine tanks farms spread over seven square miles, 18 custom-programmed RTU locations that were beyond end of life and had slow links due to 900 MHz radios, and a blending instrumented control system (ICS) that was also beyond end of support. This system was also slowed by using a three-step protocol conversion process for its data flows.

Prepare to plug-and-play

While many wireless components, networks and software are more preconfigured and intuitive, the most suitable format still needs to be implemented in the most appropriate setting. This means a site survey and some other basic tasks are still crucial, such as:

  • Enlist business-level and supervisory approvals, and recruit internal cross-functional team and as-needed external expertise;

  • List and layout each of an application's processes, devices, performance and production needs:

  • Describe all of the operation's information requirements, including data formats, sizes, speeds, scheduling, as well as the needs of its network;

  • Document present and planned wireless types, capabilities, protocols, components and software, and confirm they meet the process application's requirements inventoried earlier;

  • Evaluate specific settings and the overall environment where wireless will be applied for power and antenna needs, physical limits and/or possibly unique barriers or performance snags; and

  • Select wireless devices and software, test to make sure they meet performance requirements, and reevaluate periodically after installation.

Borger's assessment team determined that commercial, off-the-shelf level gauges for the tanks and a common ICS with integrated communications were needed, and selected an ISA100 Wireless infrastructure with Honeywell's OneWireless devices and software. These upgrades increased overall reliability, reduced the time needed to get data to operators from minutes to seconds, and increased blending performance and throughput by 18% based on total blends per week. 

"Users have to think about what wireless strategy their application requires. If they just need some immediate data, such as a temperature measurement, then maybe they can buy a minimal plug-and-play system. However, if they need a larger Internet protocol (IP) network outdoors or digital transformation functions, then they may need a larger, more holistic mesh network that can serve critical needs. This is where upfront site and topology surveys, design and engineering comes in, as well as software tools that can estimate wireless connections needed and expected data throughputs," explains Mols. "If an application needs video for intelligent wearables or voice over Internet (VoIP), then its users will need more network bandwidth, so they don't get dizzy due to constant interruptions. If they're running a safety application, then they may need data to arrive in the gateway within 100 milliseconds. Upfront design and engineering can point out these requirements, and identify optimal spots for antennas, transmitters and receivers to establish a robust network, and avoid spotty performance. Radios at the edges of networks sometimes have to modulate up and 'shout' to be heard, which can drain battery power. This is why Honeywell says a well-designed and implemented wireless network can provide better performance than wired because it has lots of redundancy built in."

Help IT and OT embrace

One aspect of wireless that's grown with its acceptance and wider presence is that OT and IT groups have overlapped and stepped on each other's toes more often. And, just as they've done in other network areas, they've been forced to resolve their differences and coordinate roles and responsibilities.  

"People just expect wireless to be there now, but there are many wireless options beyond Wi-Fi, so users need to know who has what, where to avoid scrambling when a problem comes up," says Justin Shade, senior product marketing specialist for wireless at Phoenix Contact. "Traditionally, IT uses Wi-Fi, but OT didn't really care what wireless technology was used as long as it worked, and the two groups usually didn't talk to each other. In the past several years, application data produced in the OT area was seen as valuable for creating process improvements to measure efficiency, and predict asset maintenance, so company leaders want that data visible on the enterprise side. To do this, OT applications need to be integrated into the IT network, which is driving a partnership between IT and OT professionals. Through this partnership, both groups are learning what works and doesn't work for the opposite group.  Many companies are forming teams, whose goal is to provide a cohesive plan that allows both sides of the business to operate together while also providing a solution that meets the needs of both groups." 

One way that some wireless and other network conflicts were avoided in the past was that IT standardized on Wi-Fi, and OT focused on anything other than Wi-Fi. 900 MHz radios and Bluetooth were used on plant floors because they were less likely to run into IT-related, Wi-Fi communications, according to Shade. "This is another reason why there are so many networks with components and systems that don't talk to each other," he says. "Greenfield applications can decide what's best from scratch, and pick or design a network that's cohesive. However, a lot of legacy networks are patchworks of non-networked devices with different types of connection mediums. It can be a challenge to find one wireless platform that can accept multiple connection mediums, such as Ethernet, RS232/485 and discrete inputs, while also having a compatible wireless technology to the existing wireless network.”

To start this integration process of bringing non-networked devices into an existing network, Shade adds they must learn that wireless is more than a single component, and understand it's part of any holistic network's mission to move data and enable business goals. "This means bringing in participants early, and not hiding a wireless application or leaving it until the end of a project, when people will ask what it is, and when it's more likely to cause problems and conflicts," explains Shade. "Organizers must explain upfront why wireless is needed and how it will work. The solution may include multiple wireless technologies that use the same or different wireless frequencies. If there are multiple wireless networks in an operations area that use the same frequencies, it's important for the owners of those two systems to discuss the design and needs of the two systems, and coordinate a channel plan that works for both parties. 

"Five years ago, it was harder for us to get industrial Wi-Fi devices on plant floors because we weren't a known enterprise vendor. Over time, this changed as it was shown that the industrial devices functioned like the enterprise level devices (were compatible, were secure, didn’t negatively impact the IT operation) and more importantly were designed with more of the OT-focused features needed for the application. These features could include 24 Vdc power, broader operating temperature ranges, modules that mounted to a DIN rail or to/through a control cabinet without extra hardware, and (maybe one of the most important) were cost effective for the application. These industrial vendors weren't usually familiar to the IT team, but we found that coordinating with IT and having the conversation at the beginning of the process allowed us to communicate why the product was chosen and avoid potential conflicts."

About the author: Jim Montague
About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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