Advancement of Wireless Standards

Control magazine provided excellent blog coverage of the recent ISA Wireless Summit. Control’s editor in chief Walt Boyes in his post, Editorial Comment! offered his review of Emerson’s John Berra’s speech:

I just want to add that I am floored with the honesty and accuracy of what John Berra said this morning. He is exactly right. I want everybody to read what he said, and I’m going to ask him for the text of his remarks, so I can post them as an open letter on ControlGlobal.com. I hope he agrees.

John did agree and the speech text is available on the ControlGlobal.com site. Walt has blogged frequently on the efforts and difficulties in creating standards in the process automation industry. I’ll highlight some of John’s points from the speech.

John began with the benefits and noted that technology for technology’s sake is not enough:

But if what we do as a technology doesn’t transfer into allowing plants to run better, safer…it isn’t going to survive.

Lack of information can lead to situations like unplanned shutdowns:

When you dig down into what causes unplanned shutdown, you find that it is usually the result of something quite simple, that we didn’t know about. Most of the incidents that occur in plants can be traceable to things like that.

He discussed how wireless allows affordable access to information and offered the example of how wireless video cameras have provided affordable security solutions. In the process industries, manufacturers have installed 20 million HART devices, but “almost nobody has invested in the wiring needed to monitor these devices together.” A wireless adaptor for these devices can free the stranded diagnostics and send them back to the control system to help see more of the plant and avoid situations like unplanned shutdowns.

With regard to the path to standards, John notes how competing standards like those that we see in the consumer space with Blu-Ray and HDVD slow market acceptance and the suppliers’ recovery of R&D costs. John said:

Standards increase user willingness to buy. They give us confidence the approach we’re taking will be accepted in the marketplace. But mostly, standards are good for our customers. That’s why Emerson has supported standards efforts for a long time. We continue to contribute people, time, money and intellectual property. Our engineers are active in both SP-100 and WirelessHART activities. We have introduced pre-standard wireless products so users can start getting experience and benefits right away – but guaranteed that buyers will have a path to eventual standards. People ought to get started.

The development of standards has historically been a challenge in the process automation industry. John notes some of the experiences with the fieldbus standards development as an example. End user involvement is critical in the process to focus the efforts around the benefits and to develop the use cases for how the technologies will be applied. John recommended:

  1. Move as quickly as possible to provide practical standards at the field level.
  2. Take advantage of wireless standards already in place at levels above the field sensor network, and fill in the gaps.

On the first point, John notes that the HART Communications Foundation and ISA SP-100 committee have more in common than not. They agree upon the IEEE 802.15.4 radio and mesh network technology.

He urged the SP-100 team to take advantage of the work already done by WirelessHART and focus their efforts on the remaining portions of the standard.

John also noted that that the SP-100 team has role in addressing issues outside the IT-based wireless standards space in hardening, ease of use, and plant network management.

He summed everything up:

There’s no question that arriving at a standard can be a struggle. But it’s not about one faction or another winning or losing. It’s about coming to agreement on how to make it easier for users to put this wonderful technology to work. And if we don’t succeed, we all lose. The sooner standards are in place, the better for everyone. We need to get on with it. Suppliers will sell more products, and users will get more of the results that make wireless so valuable. The wireless potential of unlocking predictive intelligence so people can have a fighting chance to make their plants run better- this is what an automation professional is standing ready to deliver, and wireless is a key to delivering those benefits.

Update: Welcome readers of Gary Mintchell’s Feed Forward blog! Gary points to Automation World magazine’s Wes Iverson, who has a great summary article, High Interest, Slow Adoption for Industrial Wireless which includes his take on John’s speech.

Update 2: Eric Murphy,at the OPC Exchange Blog, looks at John’s speech and compares it with the efforts on furthering the OPC standard. Have a read of his post, Wireless and the Familiar OPC Story and add your thoughts.

Posted Wednesday, August 1st, 2007 under Interoperability, Wireless.

Leave a Reply