Survey Says: Users Demand Wireless Monitoring, Control Products

Industrial wireless applications are expected to grow at a 19% compound annual growth rate from 2007 to 2012, according to a recent Venture Development Corp. (VDC) survey covering radio frequency (RF) or microwave industrial monitoring and control products. Market to double in 5 years VDC estimates the combined worldwide market to be $629 million in 2007, expanding to more than $1.

By Jim Taylor, Venture Development Corp. August 1, 2008

Sidebars: Faster growth in process industries for wireless devices ONLINE extra below

Industrial wireless applications are expected to grow at a 19% compound annual growth rate from 2007 to 2012, according to a recent Venture Development Corp. (VDC) survey covering radio frequency (RF) or microwave industrial monitoring and control products.

Market to double in 5 years

VDC estimates the combined worldwide market to be $629 million in 2007, expanding to more than $1.5 billion in 2012. Wireless products include:

Data acquisition systems;

Network products (access points, I/O devices, modems, repeaters, routers, transceivers);

Operator interface terminals (hand-held, notebook, tablet, vehicle mount, wearable; computers, and PDAs);

Remote controls; and

Sensors/transducers (flow, level, pressure, temperature, vibration, other).

Also, the market growth rates for some of these products, and certain market segments such as those used in mesh networking applications, are forecast to grow at much faster rates.

Wireless users respond

As part of the study, VDC conducted interviews and a Web-based survey with those who purchase/specify these products: end users, original equipment manufacturers, and system integrators. Information and data were obtained from current users of these wireless products, those with planned usage, and those without planned usage, but with potential applications. Lower cost was cited by majority of respondents among reasons for current and planned use (graphic), to provide more flexibility and ease of implementation.

Lower cost goes beyond product prices. Most respondents believe there currently are significant price premiums for these products and related software versus products for wireline solutions.

Lowering cost, adding flexibility, and easing of implementation ranked as the top reasons for current or planned wireless technology. Other uses or planned uses include customer demand, mobility, reach (only way to get there), protection against wire damage, and increased safety.

Where wireless saves money

Nonetheless, expectations are that these premiums will evaporate within five years. Main areas of cost savings are:

Lower installation costs (labor and materials);

Lower maintenance costs;

Greater flexibility for additions and changes;

Higher reliability in specific applications; and

More efficient use and reduction of personnel needs using wireless mobile operator interface terminals.

Note that 42% of respondents identified “customer demand” among reasons cited for use. These were comments by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and system integrators, indicating they are providing or plan to provide wireless solutions due to demand by end-user customers.

Satisfaction increases

Satisfaction with the wireless (RF or microwave) technologies implemented for industrial monitoring and control (see graph) has increased compared to the 2005 VDC survey on this topic.

The 2005 ratings were:

Very high 13%;

High 32%;

Moderate 50%;

Low 3%; and

Very low 2%.

There is much greater satisfaction among users in the most recent survey.

The 2007 ratings, as the graph shows, were:

Very high 16%;

High 43%;

Moderate 35%; and

Low 6%.

Applications: data, control, level

Industrial wireless applications vary widely, (see graphic on first page). In the survey, the most identified current applications were three more or less generic areas: data communications (between controllers, etc.); controller maintenance; and controller programming. Each of these were identified by a majority of the current user respondents.

Next, the most identified were:

Tank level monitoring;

Air quality equipment;

Chemical processing equipment;

Wastewater treatment equipment;

Water quality equipment;

Electric utility process equipment;

Conveyors; and

Waste treatment equipment.

In total, 46 application classes were identified.

The largest increases in the number of respondents with higher planned uses are for:

Controller programming;

Semiconductor processing equipment;

Heat-treating furnaces;

Production test equipment; and

Vibration-monitoring equipment.

Not wireless yet? Why?

Those not using or planning to implement wireless (RF/Microwave) technology in monitoring and control applications were asked what could induce them to do so.

The most frequently identified reasons, in ranked order, were:

Cost savings;

High security protection; and

Reliability equivalent to or better than hard wiring.

Less identified were better education on technology and products; customer requests; evidence of resulting productivity improvement; and only use for new installations, not for retrofitting of existing applications.

These points could serve as guidelines for how vendors could convert these people into customers. Vendors need to educate users more, and to sell benefits, not just hardware and software.

Nearly 60% of respondents say their satisfaction with wireless technology is high or very high.

Also, it is worthy to note that reliability mentioned goes beyond hardware and software to include data communications. Concerns regarding security protection and data communication reliability of wireless (RF/microwave) products in industrial wireless monitoring and control applications could be limiting the market. VDC found more concern about security among this year’s survey respondents than those responding in 2005 when 31% indicated they had no security concerns, versus only 3% saying they have no security concerns now.

How to fix security, interference

The shares indicating very high, high, and moderate concerns in this study are much higher than in the previous study. Again, it appears that greater experience translates into greater experience with or concern about security.

Encryption of signal transmissions is by far the most suggested means for providing data security. Others include password codes, limiting the power of signal transmission to allow only short-range reception, and using directional antennas. Leading interference concerns are: 1) Signal blockage and multipath needs due to metal structures, and 2) Interference from equipment-generated noise.

Similarly, concerns about interference increased in this study, suggesting that these challenges tend to coincide with greater wireless RF/microwave systems experience. Means suggested for overcoming these problems include:

Conduct site surveys to locate access points;

Have multiple transmission paths, such as using mesh networks;

Properly ground products;

Provide error checking;

Provide shielding of products; and

Use direct sequence or frequency hopping wireless technology.

For more info, visit

ONLINE extra Wireless Communications for Industry

Wireless Level Monitoring

Proximity Sensing Via Wireless Network

Industrial Wireless Implementation Guide (Contains links to more than 30 resources)

And… in this issue: Demystifying ZigBee and its Application

Author Information

Jim Taylor is director for industrial automation, Venture Development Corp. (VDC), Natick, MA.

Faster growth in process industries for wireless devices

Wireless devices and equipment for use in process manufacturing manufacturing may be growing faster than overall industrial wireless growth. ARC Advisory Group said in April the market for wireless devices and equipment in process manufacturing will grow to over $1.1 billion in 2012, a growth rate of 32% per year, according to its study “Wireless in Process Manufacturing Worldwide Outlook.” Study data, from 2007, include a forecast of market growth through year 2012.

Deployment of wireless in continuous process manufacturing industries (chemicals, oil and gas, oil refining, electric power, mining and metals) has lagged other manufacturing industries, because process plants are often larger, mainly outdoors, and may have dangerous and potentially explosive materials that mandate use of equipment carrying special certifications.

Wireless process sensing is expected to be the fastest growing market segment. In 2008, it accounts for only a small portion of the total market, but according to ARC, it will become the largest segment during the next five years, as the market absorbs a deluge of new wireless sensing products that comply with wireless versions of industrial standards. Two industrial networking standards, WirelessHART and ISA100, use the same sensor radio hardware as the ZigBee standard, but with their own software. The driving force is dramatically lower installation cost, which ARC believes will cause the normal change-averse process industries to use it wherever they can, leading to more rapid adoption. For more info, visit