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Maintaining a user perspective

August 26, 2010


Yesterday we posted a commentary by Herman Storey on why end users should care about converging wireless standards. To some his comments may seem controversial, at least within the vendor community. To many users, his thoughts are probably dead-on.

I met Herman a few years ago while he was still with Shell. He was giving a presentation at a Fieldbus Foundation conference. I had been hearing much about wireless instrumentation at the time, and I asked him if he shared the notion that there are all these field devices that users were dying to install if only they could find a practical way to do it. Wireless promised to deliver that answer. His response was that with a few exceptions, most plants he dealt with probably had as much instrumentation installed as they really needed. It might be nice to have a few more measuring points here or there, but no torrent of new equipment. This was a useful reality check.

The value proposition for wireless devices, fieldbus networking, sophisticated asset management, and the like is not the same for every plant. And as Herman points out, the real costs and benefits of a technology like wireless instrumentation go far beyond saving the cost of wiring. There are times when I have a hard time understanding why process industries are so conservative and seem to be terribly slow to adopt technologies that offer much promise. Users have to think in terms that the new gadget that is so enticing today will still need to be running 20 years from now to pay for itself, and that the company that made it better still be in business and supporting it. Such a mindset gives you a very compelling reason to make sure those decisions are made thoughtfully. The cost of getting it wrong can be huge.