The constant improvements in electronics and communications technology has made many things much easier to track, monitor and control.In a hazardex article, The advantages of pervasive sensing, Emerson’s Deanna Johnson describes how sensing technologies, once judiciously used due to installation costs, can be used to solve many challenges in today’s process manufacturing and production facilities.
Deanna opens by defining pervasive sensing:
Pervasive sensing is simply the use of sensors to capture data on anything in a plant that could affect its operation. It is driven to a large extent by the increasing availability of inexpensive sensors – many of them wireless.
She highlights how our automobiles have changed over the years where today’s cars have 15 times the sensors that they did 15 years ago. Some examples include:
Throttle and crankshaft position sensors, along with oxygen sensors, ethanol fuel sensors, injection pressure sensors, engine knock sensors and mass airflow sensors are essential inputs to the engine control computer; they are supplemented by other on-board sensors that aid in maintaining reliability, such as monitoring the levels of engine oil and coolant. They even watch the pressure in each tire, and trigger an alert if pressure drops too low.
For process manufacturers and producers, additional sensors can be used not only to improve process control but also improve:
…worker safety, regulatory compliance, equipment reliability and energy efficiency. It makes it possible to detect and respond to hazards early, protect people and equipment, predict failures and reduce slowdowns and shutdowns. It helps to avoid environmental issues and fines, and to spot potential security threats early.
One of the technology advancements to open up opportunities for pervasive sensing was wireless mesh communications:
A network of small (generally battery-operated) devices communicate with each other and with a central station (Fig. 1); while each device in the network might have a radio range of only a few meters, the devices organise themselves into a self-healing network that can pass messages over considerable distances, route signals around obstacles, and continue to communicate even if several devices go off line.
Deanna notes the importance of applying human centered design principles when these sensing devices are to be used in process-critical (process control and process safety) applications. Sensing devices are typically already connected to the control and safety systems for these applications. Adding more devices needs to not overload operators, but rather inform them of potential situations.
She notes the opportunity to apply pervasive sensing devices in business-critical applications such as site safety, reliability and energy efficiency:
Business-critical data requires a timely response, rather than the immediate response needed by process-critical data. Failure to act on it can lead to things like a plant slowdown or increased energy usage.
Deanna shares examples of business critical applications where advanced sensing can be applied including injection well monitoring replacing manual checks, safety shower monitoring for site safety, leak detection for environmental compliance, pump vibration monitoring and steam trap monitoring for wasted energy.
Read the article for more on each of these examples. Deanna closes:
In the past, pervasive sensing for business-critical applications was impeded by the cost and difficulty of deployment, the complexity of the technology, and the difficulty of accessing and using the resulting data. The cost was high and the information benefit was low. Improvements in instrumentation and analytic software have changed that equation. Pervasive sensing can have profound effects on reliability, safety, efficiency and environmental compliance, and it makes possible analytics-driven predictive maintenance. There is every reason to believe that pervasive sensing will continue to spread through industries of all kinds, where it will have positive impacts on productivity, environmental compliance and profitability.
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