Wireless Standards a Mixed Blessing for Process Industries

April 2, 2012
Competition Between Standards Leads Automation Customers to Fear That Wireless Is Emerging as the Next Platform for the Automation Fieldbus War

The prospect of adding wireless devices to the process automation architecture is a compelling one from the perspective of tangible business benefits and incremental operational improvements. Availability of robust industrial wireless network protocols, for use with IEEE standard technology makes the prospect even more attractive relative to past proprietary, often standalone, wireless implementations. This potential is somewhat offset, however, by competition between these standards that leads customers to fear that wireless is emerging as the next platform for the automation fieldbus wars, according to Chantal Polsonetti, vice president of ARC Advisory Group (www.arcweb.com) and principal author of ARC's "Wireless Devices in Process Manufacturing" report.

From Proprietary to Standard and Integrated

As the WirelessHART and ISA100.11a standards gain footholds at the sensor level, a majority of the process wireless market will gravitate away from legacy proprietary solutions that continued to account for a large share of the 2011 market. Concurrent with this shift, a migration away from standalone, point-to-point installations will occur in favor of mesh-based, inherently redundant device-level solutions that interface to a Wi-Fi-based plant or facility backbone.

Tighter integration of wireless implementations with the overall automation scheme is central to this migration. The addition of incremental measurement points due to availability of wireless devices is attractive, but the ability to integrate, analyze and act on these additional measurements is reliant on integration with the control or monitoring system.

Availability of industrial wireless standards at the device level is leading to the mainstreaming of wireless devices and consequently higher supplier participation. The relatively recent introduction and certification of the industrial standards means that many products are still in the developmental pipeline. ARC expects the supplier landscape to expand dramatically over the next decade as numerous sensor, transmitter, actuator and other device-level product suppliers introduce wireless offerings.