OPC and WirelessHART Paths to Standards

I read Dick Caro’s, Which Way Wireless article published last Friday on the ControlGlobal.com site. It discusses WirelessHART and ISA100.11a and their paths to standards. He describes ISA100:

ISA100.11a is the name of the first standard being developed by the ISA SP-100 standards committee. The committee was officially chartered in 2005, with an editing team created in early 2007 to actually write the standard. Completion of the standard’s first draft is scheduled for November 2008, and it may be that this schedule will be met.

Let’s check this schedule against past standards to get a reading of when products might be expected.

The only standards effort in which I was fortunate to participate was the original launch of the OPC standard–then called “OLE for Process Control.” A task force with Microsoft in a consulting role and five automation suppliers: Emerson (then Fisher-Rosemount), Intellution, Rockwell Software, Opto 22, and Intuitive Technologies announced the initiative at the ISA show in October 1995. The objective was to create a real-time communications standard based on Microsoft’s OLE and COM technologies. Emerson served as master editor for this initiative.

The first draft of the specification was released in December 1995 and a second draft in March 1996. Three global seminars were held to teach interested parties about the standard’s scope from April through August of 1996. Version 1.0 of the specification was release at the end of August 1996.

A beta release of the initial DeltaV system came out late in the fall of 1996, and the general release occurred in the spring of 1997. It was one of the first, if not the first, OPC server and OPC client commercially available. From the announcement of the task force in the fall of 1995 to commercially available products in the spring of 1997, this has to be one of quickest standards development efforts in process automation history. This standard, now referred to as OPC-DA, is maintained by the OPC Foundation and is still widely used today as a way to integrate software, systems, and devices.

I think this effort progressed quickly because Microsoft technologies were becoming increasingly important in process automation solutions and the existing method of communication, DDE, had its limitations that most acknowledged.

I haven’t been real close to the WirelessHART path to standard, so I called Terry Krouth, Emerson Process Management’s Chief Technology Officer, to understand its path to a standard. The wireless portion came with the HART 7 specifications formally approved by the HART Communication Foundation (HCF) members last June and authorized for release by the HCF board in September.

The HCF launched the WirelessHART initiative in November 2004. Its objective was to establish a wireless communication standard for process applications and enable wireless access to existing HART devices whose installation numbers more than 20 million. More than 25 companies were involved in its development including most of the major automation system suppliers. This HCF whitepaper, Why WirelessHART, shows a timeline with the major milestones on its successful path to ratification.

Terry noted that while the WirelessHART spec was being written, an extensive field-testing program was designed and conducted. Hundreds of prototypes were installed in actual field conditions to verify that the specification correct and workable. To make sure the standard would meet its objective, use cases of application scenarios were developed to make sure the standard could be used. HCF also donated these use cases to the ISA100.11a effort in June 2006.

Just last month, Emerson announced it is taking orders for the first products compliant to the WirelessHART standard. This comes a year and a half after the first wireless field network products became available in October 2006. Like the OPC standard, it takes time once the final standard is ratified until products become orderable and commercially available from the automation suppliers.

Like the immediate value OPC standard created around interoperability, the WirelessHART standard is making around “hard to get at” diagnostic information. I’ve chronicled some of the successful applications like wellhead pressure measurement and tank farms level measurement.

Other applications that have been spotlighted include railcar temperature measurement, temperature profiling, hot strip mill water flow, and remote pumping.

WirelessHART-based field networks open up possibilities to provide diagnostic information that is not practical or perhaps even possible to get at with conventional wiring. Process manufacturers are quickly realizing the value when they install these networks as these examples demonstrate.

Update: I’d also like to point out a webcast, The Range of Wireless, that Automation World magazine is hosting. It will be held April 17, at 2pm Eastern U.S. time.

Included in the panel will be Ron Helson, Director of HART Communications Foundation. I’ll do another update when/if this webcast is archived.

Posted Monday, April 14th, 2008 under Interoperability, Wireless.

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