ISA Expo 2006: Wireless technologies dominate

Following its “Automation Without Limits” theme, ISA Expo 2006 hit a wide range of topics at the Houston show in October, discussing everything from secure wireless Ethernet to the need for more engineers. New products and new technologies dotted the show floor as attendees braved torrential rains to participate in a technical conference called by several “the best ever.


Following its “Automation Without Limits” theme, ISA Expo 2006 hit a wide range of topics at the Houston show in October, discussing everything from secure wireless Ethernet to the need for more engineers. New products and new technologies dotted the show floor as attendees braved torrential rains to participate in a technical conference called by several “the best ever.”

Among introductions were Krohne’s Optiswirl vortex flowmeter, which features integrated pressure and temperature compensation and Ikey’s DW-860 wireless industrial keyboard, an input device for mobile PC applications with 2.4 GHz WirelessUSB technology, allowing for up to a 30-ft signal range without line-of-sight issues.

It was difficult to walk around without tripping over a wireless exhibitor. It seemed there was an antenna sticking out of another device at every turn. Among wireless highlights:

  • National Instruments supported the wireless array of products by conducting a wireless sensor network tour twice daily, taking interested attendees on a guided visit to six partner companies that featured wireless offerings: Accsense, AccuTech, Crossbow, Oceana Sensors, Phoenix Contact, and SensiCast. The tours coincided with National Instrument’s announcement of the release of additional LabView drivers for wireless sensor networks.

  • HART Communications Foundation is promoting their protocol combined with wireless connectivity as an excellent way to advance deployment of smart sensors, even when there is legacy analog I/O and DCS. Wireless can transmit diagnostic data while the 4-20 mA process variable is carried by existing wiring to a non-HART enabled DCS. Their booth displayed instrumentation from over a dozen companies using HART communication.

  • Dust Networks announced that their hardware is inside Emerson’s new Smart Wireless product line. The time synchronized mesh protocol (TSMP) was developed by Dust and has been chosen by Emerson as the platform for their whole new product line after extensive field testing. Both companies are convinced that it represents the best technology for demanding applications in real-world industrial environments.

  • Sensicast unveiled their SensiNet services product, which provides hosted application services for users to access their instruments over the Internet, eliminating the need to locate applications within their own network infrastructures. This is an addition to their existing wireless temperature, electrical usage and pressure instrument product lines, which they say are proven reliable, fully deployable and available now.

  • Phoenix Contact was showing their new industrial wireless Ethernet products which claim exceptionally high data protection. The 802.11 a/b/g radios are the first of their kind to feature 802.11i/WPA2 security with AES-CCMP and 802.1x, reportedly the most advanced security measures available. Embedded software allows any properly identified network PC to configure devices using a selection of modes in a variety of applications.

  • Elpro is positioning itself as a wireless pioneer, building industrial equipment since 1983. Their latest offering is a HART 802.11 gateway, which transfers all wireless HART functionality including sensor network functions, using WPA2 (128 bit AES) encryption. This product offers ELPRO’s lifetime warranty, which they say is the only one in the industry, something they can support thanks to their internal manufacturing.

  • ZigBee Alliance promoted their new “enhanced” ZigBee standard, scheduled for delivery in early 2007. Their new release reportedly includes capabilities for devices to be broken into functional groups, simpler system maintenance, targeted broadcasts to specific receivers, and over-the-air setup tools. (See related news item, this issue.)

At the conference, keynote speakers filled the room with attendees each day, discussing effects of Hurricane Katrina, need for process industry safety, and security and safe operation of wireless devices in hazardous environments.

Drawing perhaps the largest and most vocal audience was “Dick’s Last Retort,” a recurring ISA Expo presentation hosted by consultant Dick Morley. Panelists included Avi Nelson, Boston political analyst and commentator; Dr. Joel N. Orr, engineering automation and computer technologies expert with Cyon Research; and Shari Worthington, president of Telesian Technology.

Morley and panelists addressed global warming, stem cell research engineering education, and engaged in lively dialogue with session attendees. The group expressed concern, in particular, about the perceived shortage of engineers today and the need to promote engineering education among young people. It challenged the doctrine of political correctness, going so far as to say being politically correct is destroying our education system by removing competition from the classroom and thereby stifling innovation.

Calling engineers their own worst advocates, the panel charged the audience to speak out for its profession and encourage youth to enter engineering. “If we don’t do it,” said Worthington, “no one will.”

The show and conference will return to Houston’s Reliant Center in 2007, Oct. 2-4.

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