Far From Quiet on the Wireless Front

Feb. 26, 2009
From Power-Gen to Petrochem, Fiber Production to Gas Distribution, Wireless Field Networks Continue to Prove Their Process Automation Mettle

Despite the economic downturn of recent months, the global application of wireless field networks continues apace. Indeed, today’s economic realities are in many ways a perfect fit for wireless: With capital at a premium, process manufacturers are looking for quick investments that cost little and save even more. Or, for cost-of-doing-business applications such as for satisfying regulatory requirements, they’re looking for solutions that will help them toe the line as quickly, easily and cost-effectively as possible.

In the course of this article, we’ll visit seven industrial sites around the world – all of which have turned to Emerson Process Management’s Smart Wireless field networks to cost-effectively enable compliance, boost productivity, improve safety or increase reliability (and sometimes a combination of all of the above!).

Predictive monitoring enabled at Total

Our first stop takes us to Total Petrochemicals in Carling, France, where Rosemount Smart Wireless temperature transmitters provide the information needed to infer changes in boiler wall thickness. The boiler provides steam for the plant’s cracker, and monitoring wall thickness enables personnel to anticipate when the boiler might need replacement.

For Total Petrochemicals in Carling, France, wireless mesh network technology has proved itself an essential alternative to running new wiring or relying on ageing infrastructure.

By going wireless, Total Petrochemicals avoided the need for a kilometer of new wiring, while reducing the need for personnel to move into and around at-risk areas.

“Our plant is more than thirty years old,” explains Jerome Uszes, electricity control & regulation maintenance manager for Total Petrochemicals. “With the rising cost of copper and the ageing of existing wiring—from corrosion, infiltration, armature degradation—it’s essential to find alternative methods to carry data throughout the plant.  We believe in wireless technologies and Emerson is a pioneer that is on the right track to offer a solution that meets our needs.”  

This non-critical monitoring of the boiler walls presented Total Petrochemicals with the perfect opportunity to evaluate Emerson’s Smart Wireless technology on a large scale and in a real industrial environment. The application would also enable the company to determine the current limits of the wireless devices and to direct future developments made by Emerson’s research and development department.

“We were very pleased with Emerson’s responsiveness. Delivery, installation and a successful startup was completed within just ten days of our order,” says Uszes.

Water usage monitored at E.ON

Across the channel at the E.ON Kingsnorth power station, a 1940-MW unit located on the Medway Estuary in Kent, U.K., Smart Wireless technology is helping to accurately monitor and measure treated water usage.

“E.ON is keen to adopt the very latest technology to help improve productivity, efficiency and availability, and wireless technology provides the ideal networking solution to access the flow measurement data from the turbine building without having to install new cabling,” says Chet Mistry, E.ON UK team leader.

Having initially undertaken extensive trials of Emerson’s Smart Wireless technology, E.ON selected the Emerson solution because it offered high levels of reliability and long transmitting distance, as well as the ability to add additional devices to the network without the need for additional infrastructure.

“We have great confidence in the technology. The self-organising network provides redundant routes for the data to pass back to the gateway. The resulting wireless mesh network delivers high reliability, “says Simon Lark, C&I engineer, E.ON UK.

“We were initially a little skeptical of the claims made for wireless, especially considering the environment we would be placing it in. But installation was quick and easy and we just switched them on and they all worked,” continues Lark. “The gateway is situated in a windowless room within the main building. Despite being totally surrounded by brick walls, when switched on the wireless transmitters were all clearly visible and immediately connected to the gateway.”

“This initial installation of wireless is providing us with valuable experience,” adds Mistry. “We are now hoping to be able to use this experience to apply the technology to a range of applications including accessing valve diagnostic information.”

Remote reactions tracked at Nu-West

At Nu-West Industries’ phosphate-based fertilizer plant in Soda Springs, Idaho, U.S., a self-organizing Smart Wireless system is tracking 16 pressure and temperature points on a reaction tank located about 250 feet from the central control room.

Emerson’s Smart Wireless technology was selected by Nu-West, a subsidiary of Agrium US, because it proved to be the easiest to install, most secure, and most reliable solution to the problem of retrieving essential operating information at an extended distance. The remote tank is 40 feet high and has four different beds of gases used to react with certain process chemicals. Even though this is not classified as a hazardous area, the tank layout and distance involved made running wires to the tank and mounting instruments both difficult and expensive.

“Hard wiring this installation would have been very challenging due to the location of the vessel,” according to Brian Wood, DCS specialist at the Nu-West plant. “The self-organizing architecture was the clincher since less than perfect line-of-sight to each device is not a concern with this system. We already have plans to add more devices to the network.”

At Nu-West Industries in Soda Spring, Idaho, a series of wireless temperature and pressure transmitters enable more precise process control by measuring process conditions at various points in this vertical reactor.

Transmissions from the remote tank at Nu-West are received by a Smart Wireless Gateway and channeled via the PlantWeb digital plant architecture to the DeltaV automation system where the AMS Suite predictive maintenance software recognizes readings that are out of the norm, enabling operators to take action to control the reactions in the tank.

Safety and production improved at Chevron

At Chevron’s San Ardo, Calif., U.S., oil field, the company boosted personnel safety, has reduced wastewater discharge, and improved time and strategy for production by utilizing two Smart Wireless networks to monitor its steam injection process and measure down-hole well pressures.

Rosemount wireless pressure transmitters are installed at eight stations and on multiple steam lines leading to out-of-service wells undergoing steam injection at the company’s operations in the San Joaquin Valley. Chevron switched to wireless monitoring after a Smart Wireless demonstration on one well confirmed an operator’s suspicion that steam usage was actually much higher than what had been previously recorded.

“The Smart Wireless transmitter in the demo uncovered that we were injecting four times as much steam as needed into this particular well,” says Paul Kinne, Chevron head operator.  The over-steaming created more wastewater, which had to be pumped from the well and treated before being discharged into wetlands draining into the Salinas River. The over-steaming also meant the company used more natural gas than necessary to produce the steam.

Operator safety has been improved and maintenance and travel costs reduced at the oil field because of the wireless technology. Personnel no longer need to visit the injection wells to collect data from traditional chart recorders or to check instruments for proper operation. The robust, self-organizing wireless network includes a Smart Wireless gateway, which communicates reliable data to the oil field’s control room via an Ethernet network connection.

“In addition, operators no longer need to make and break high pressure and temperature connections, so their safety is improved,” says Kinne.

Chevron estimates that having the correct steaming measurements has saved the company 14 days of production four times each year, worth more than $100,000 annually. Smart Wireless also saved $60,000 in installations costs relative to hard wiring.

“The new wireless system is reliable and has passed our rigorous IT security review,” adds Mohammad Heidari, Chevron automation engineer. “Installation was easy and we haven’t had any problems.”

Environmental compliance enabled at Lenzing

At the Lenzing Fibers mill in Heiligenkreuz, Austria, a Smart Wireless network is enabling the company to meet local government regulations related to the temperature of water discharged into rivers and watercourses.
“The Emerson technology was both easy to install and integrate and has been extremely reliable in terms of data transfer,” says Wolfgang Gotzi, head of automation and maintenance. “When all the transmitters were in place the network offered us a communications reliability of 100%, which is very impressive.”

Lenzing Fibers, a winner of the European Business Awards for the Environment, is the world’s largest producer of Tencel fibers. The Heiligenkreuz fibers plant uses water drawn from a local river for cooling purposes. Local environmental regulations require that the water returned to the river must not be more than 3 degrees Celsius higher than the water extracted. The regulations also stipulate that the company must maintain a constant check and record of the water temperature at both inlet and outlet points.

“Because of the distance of the River Lafnitz from the control room and the fact people are free to walk by the river, we would have had to dig a trench for the cabling and this would have been very expensive,” said Gotzi. “The cost of installing wireless is much lower and has made this project possible.”

Prior to the regulation being introduced, Lenzing was already monitoring the water temperatures manually involving daily visits to the river. However to meet the environmental regulation there was a need to improve the reliability of the results and for these measurements to be easily stored and be made readily available for inspection. By implementing a solution that enabled online measurements, Lenzing Fibers reduced operations costs and streamlined reporting.

Pipeline upgrade streamlined at Bord Gáis

Emerson Smart Wireless technology is being used to help monitor an expansive natural gas pipeline distribution system as part of an upgrade to Bord Gáis’ Above Ground Installations (AGIs) in Ireland. New Rosemount wireless devices have replaced aging hard-wired devices as part of a trial to decide the future ‘specification’ of such sites going forward and for other sites that are due upgrades. Existing AGIs reaching the end of their lifespan are being upgraded with the latest instrumentation. One such site was at Middleton, near Cork, where a number of instruments needed to be upgraded with the latest temperature and pressure transmitters.

“Having adopted GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) as a “back up” communications technology for our RTUs we were very comfortable with wireless,”  says Frank Smiddy, communication & instrumentation engineer, Bord Gáis. “We like to think that we are very forward thinking and open to new ideas and we are always looking to improve our service using the latest technology.”

For the upgrade at Middleton, wireless promised to be lower cost, offered faster installation and start-up, as well as easy integration into the existing RTUs using Modbus serial communications. Although there is minimal traffic on the road dividing the Middleton facility, Bord Gáis could not use a line-of-sight wireless solution as the signal may be interrupted by passing cars affecting the reliability of the communications.

At Middleton, Rosemount wireless transmitters included five measuring pressure, one differential pressure, and one temperature.  All have been successfully installed and are sending measurements back to the control room via the RTU. The devices are placed in enclosures, standard practice for all instrumentation used at Bord Gáis AGIs, and the Smart Wireless Gateway is positioned within the instrumentation kiosk, which is effectively a “walk in” enclosure.

“We found that the enclosures do not interfere with the signals at all. We tested a few devices that were positioned furthest away from the gateway and these worked without any problems so we proceeded to install the rest of the transmitters,“ explained Brid Sheehan, Communication & Instrumentation Engineer, Bord Gáis. “Reliability of the wireless signal has not been an issue. We trend the wireless transmissions from the control room so we can see if there are any problems, but so far there hasn’t been any.“

For Lenzing Fibers in Heiligenkreuz, Austria, a Smart Wireless network has proven a cost-effective means to continuously monitor the temperature rise of cooling water drawn from and returned to the local river.

Reliability improved at PPL Generation

At PPL Generation power plants in Pennsylvania, Smart Wireless technology has proved to be “extremely cost-effective and reliable.” For example, in providing continuous performance data on critical boiler feed pumps at the Montour power stations as well as feedwater and air heaters at the Brunner Island Unit 1. “The additional information provided by the wireless instruments allows us to more effectively monitor the mechanical and thermal performance of these valuable assets,” says Joe Murach, supervisor of equipment reliability.

Key temperature and pressure measurements were not available previously to populate software designed to analyze thermal performance and determine preventive maintenance schedules. Company officials had long wanted to obtain this information, but the high cost of installing wiring was a roadblock they could not overcome. Wireless was the only option for obtaining the needed data, Murach says.

“The Emerson technology is able to handle the power plant environment,” Murach says. “The transmitters communicate with the gateway without a problem even across several floors and through walls. Going wireless eliminated the need for drilling through concrete decks, installing conduit and cable trays, and pulling wires. Instead, we have an easily installed, cost-effective and reliable wireless network.” 

“We are now able to more closely monitor the condition of our valuable assets like the feedwater pumps and determine the thermal efficiency of critical equipment,” adds Murach. “The newly available information allows us to optimize boiler efficiency and detect problems at their onset. This enables our maintenance personnel to make repairs at the most opportune time rather than waiting until something fails unexpectedly.”