Self-networking instruments: New smart wireless instrumentation creates plug-and-play networks



Using wireless technology, Emerson hopes to create many new applications for their smart sensors and PlantWeb archictcture.

Emerson Process Management has raised the curtain on its new in-plant Smart Wireless product line in an effort to capture a big slice of the growing wireless instrumentation market. Unveiled at Emerson's Global Users Exchange in Nashville, the product is being heralded by the Emerson brass as a wireless platform for everyone, featuring exceptional reliability, low costs, easy setup, and, best of all, Emerson instrumentation at its heart.

A logical marriage of PlantWeb digital plant architecture, HART communication, and all that Emerson instrumentation, the new wireless platform intends to provide a seamless path from individual device to control system that takes advantage of all the capabilities smart instrumentation can offer. The system designers reportedly called upon customers and their host of field representatives to incorporate user input as much as possible to create exactly what the market wants. The new designs received strenuous field trials at BP's Cherry Point Refinery to ensure that they can perform as critical end users expect.

Early reports are very positive, according to David Lafferty, senior technology consultant with BP. "Our field trials were part of a partnership between BP and Emerson," he explained. "The trials were very successful and a win-win for both companies. We found that this wireless technology enabled us to do things we simply could not do before, either because of cost or physical wiring obstacles. Through the trials, we found that Emerson's wireless approach is flexible, easy to use, reliable, and makes a step change reduction in installed costs."

During a question-and-answer session, when asked if this new platform would change BP's thinking as they plan a $3 billion refit of their Whiting refinery, Lafferty thought briefly and simply answered, "Yes." He then went on to elaborate that the lessons learned at Cherry Point would undoubtedly be incorporated during renovations, new building projects, and even offshore platforms.

After a questioner asked what made this equipment different than other wireless platforms, John Berra, president of Emerson Process Management, stated his position emphatically. "The difference is, it's Emerson! It's instrumentation that has stood the test of time, with leading sellers in the wired world," he reminded the attendees. "We won't risk our customers' sense of loyalty just to have a wireless product."

In-plant Smart Wireless field networks use time synchronized mesh protocol (TSMP) self organizing network technology. This means that each device in the network can communicate with the gateway or the other devices. That way when an individual device does not have clear contact with the gateway, the others can serve to carry the signal as required. The architecture is designed around HART instrumentation and uses process variable and diagnostic information. During a demonstration at the conference, Emerson added a new device to an operating network simply by inserting the battery. There was no additional programming or modification, and in moments the new device was communicating with its colleagues in the network.

In an informal discussion over lunch, a small group of Emerson salespeople were excited about the new offerings, but still circumspect about customers' acceptance of wireless instrumentation from any source. Many users will still need to be convinced that a wireless option will work for them, which could be an uphill battle.

Emerson's Smart Wireless equipment requires no site surveys or special tools. It supports SP100 control and monitoring application classes 1-5 and the network is scalable from 5 to more than 100,000 devices. High efficiency allows for battery life of 5 to 15 years with options for other power scavenging methods, depending on application.

Although the offering of wireless equipped instrumentation is still somewhat limited, new devices are being added along with a transmitter designed to retrofit to any existing HART instruments from any manufacturer. In November, Emerson's on-line PlantWeb University will add more than 25 short courses that present a practical introduction to the technology and applications. For a complete set of technical documents, online tools, and information about the latest additions, click here .

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Peter Welander , process industries editor

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