Wireless Future Quantum Leap in Field Instruments: Emerson Presents New Smart Wireless Solutions

Editor: Gerd Kielburger

Wireless measurement systems have long been more than just a vision even in the process industry. Emerson Process Management will be bringing its 2.4 GHz In-plant Smart Wireless solutions onto the market this spring. This technology should bring about a quantum leap for users in the reliability of their plants and in the efficiency of their operations.

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( Archiv: Vogel Business Media )

The chemicals industry is often slower than others to take up technological innovations, and for good reason: safety is paramount and only products that have been tested several times have any chance of success. It is no different with wireless communication. While Wireless & Co. has long since consigned its march through Germany’s automotive and mechanical engineering production sites to the history books, wireless communication, 110 years after its invention by the Italian Guglielmo Marconi, is still underrepresented in production plants in the process industry at less than one percentage point. However, leading suppliers have ideas about changing this. Back in February 2006, John Berra, president of Emerson Process Management, told PROCESS at an ARC meeting in the USA about the product launch of wireless thermometers and pressure gauges for the process industry.

Last autumn, some nine months later, the new product portfolio was launched in North America with the 900 MHz versions for measuring temperature, pressure, filling level and volume flow rate. Now comes the market launch in Europe with the 2.4 GHz versions and the manufacturer has great expectations. Wireless technology is no more and no less than the next big step in the development of process automation, stresses Jim Nyquist, Europe Manager of Emerson Process Management. Nevertheless, most plants have limited experience of using this technology. This is why, alongside the market launch, Emerson is offering supportive and commercial-free internet training courses. The new courses offered by the PlantWeb University are designed to help users get to grips with the basics of wireless technology, what it can do for operators and how operators can use it in their own plants.


Self-organizing network

For Jim Nyquist, the advantages of the new wireless field instruments, virtually identical in shape apart from the antennas, have long been obvious: “Thanks to the possibility of accessing information that was previously unobtainable, our Smart Wireless network helps avoid unforeseen interruptions to processes or plant shutdowns. The efficiency and service life of the process equipment and the output from the process are increased. The response time to safety-related incidents can be improved and the emissions of harmful substances reduced”.

As an extension of Emerson’s digital PlantWeb plant architecture, the Smart Wireless solution uses a self-organizing network. According to Nyquist, field tests carried out on the premises of several US and European customers over the last three years have shown that network reliability is more than 99% and the costs for new plants are up to 90% lower than those for wired installations (see also Applications Statement text box “Test at BP…”).

Self-organizing networks use wireless field instruments as an alternative communication path and thus offer redundancy. This solves the main problem: the screening of the plants by the metal. Thanks to the self-organization, more than 90% of messages reach their destination. Networks constructed from Emerson technology are designed for anything from 5 to a maximum of 100,000 units. “The more units that are connected, the more reliable the whole system becomes”, says Mark Schumacher, General Manager & Vice President of the Rosemount division of Emerson Process Management in response to the query as to whether so many units would not in fact overload the network. Schumacher explained to PROCESS that installing the Smart Wireless solution is extremely easy and does not require either complicated checking of the plant or any special tools; the solutions have been designed so that they support the ISA SP-100 standard for automation and class 1 – 5 monitoring of a network, and have been tested for classes 3 – 5 by customers.

And what about the energy requirement and complying with the requisite safety standards? The SmartPower development offers a battery life of between 5 and 15 years, depending on use. Not only that, new battery-free versions are currently under development which are intended to be powered by solar energy, waste heat or vibration. Schumacher is confident that developments of this kind could be available on the market in as little as one or two years’ time. “The safety concept behind our wireless network, which also takes the needs of the industry into account, has been extensively tested and verified in field tests as well as by independent safety experts. We use encryption, authentication, verification, anti-jamming and security routines akin to password protection (key management) to create a robust system.”

Possible applications

Where can the new Smart Wireless Solutions be used? Emerson envisages possible uses in refineries, oil and gas processing, in the chemicals industry, in paper production or even in water and sewage treatment, to name a few examples. The technology is also ideal for remote monitoring of oil and gas production stations, tank farms, pipeline substations and offshore production platforms. In the chemicals industry, uses in distillation columns are also conceivable, for example: at the moment, pressure and temperature are only measured on one in every three or four column plates in a number of columns. Wireless field instruments could in future record the temperature distribution over all columns, thereby opening the way for saving costs and further optimizing processes. Emerson will soon be introducing the pre-configured Smart Pack Starter Kit, promising its customers easy commissioning. This kit includes Smart Start Services, between 5 and 100 Rosemount wireless gauges for volume flow rate, pressure, filling level or temperature, a wireless gateway and the AMS Software Intelligent Device Manager for access to prognostic diagnostic information via the wireless gateway. According to the company, other field-tested wireless networks can also be seamlessly integrated into existing digital automation systems DeltaV or Ovation, as well as into other existing control systems.

Emerson is currently working with various industrial associations, manufacturers and users on the development of a wireless network standard (HART wireless and ISA SP-100) that meets the requirements of the industry and should therefore pave the way for a wide take-up of wireless measurement systems.