What’s needed for wireless control?

Think Again: Wireless control in six easy steps: Technologies can enable wireless control and mobility applications. What are you waiting for?

By Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering November 12, 2017

If you weren’t among the early adopters of wireless control and mobile technology applications, I get it: If something goes wrong, they’re calling you, not me. I’m just the person saying wireless control has been done reliably and can be done because enabling technologies have been readily available. 

Wireless control: 6 steps

What do wireless control and mobility applications need?

1. Reliable and secure wireless communication designs connect the wireless portion (or all) of the control loop, depending on the implementation. Reliable signals need to go from sensors to the logic device, from the logic device to the actuator, the actuator can provide feedback, and the measurement device measures again, to optimize the loop. If it’s an open loop, a human gets a notification or alarm (perhaps wirelessly) and confirms or enables the next step in the loop. Closed-loop control is fully automated, alarming only if there’s a setpoint violation or fault that might not be fixed as part of the automation. Reliable and redundant wireless communications exist, ensuring signal integrity, using standards and/or using proprietary technologies.

2. Wireless hardware can be appropriately and rapidly installed to enable wireless communications for control and mobile monitoring applications. Wireless networks and enabling devices are many, often at a price point that enables applications that wouldn’t have been considered previously because of wired communication costs. Batteries last longer in applications without line power.

3. Software can help design, configure, and operate wireless connections. It isn’t as difficult as it used to be. Ask someone you trust for a demo.

4. Mobile hardware (tablets, smartphones, industrial-enabled rugged mobile human-machine interfaces) can use appropriately enabled software to provide a view into controls, automation, and instrumentation. The latest software self-optimizes to fit the screen size, so redesigning HMI screens for mobility may not be needed.

5. Connections to higher-level systems (perhaps wirelessly) provide additional, sometimes cloud-enabled intelligent applications for analysis, providing smarter and faster decisions more easily to help decision-makers.

6. Information justifying investments in wireless control and mobility help those involved look forward to rapid returns on investment, resulting in hero status for the advocate and a showcase of reliable wireless capabilities that look like something engineering-minded youth want to be a part of. Or perhaps you’ll get a hearty handshake, a pat on the back, and the satisfaction of having time to do the next six things.

Either way, think again about wireless: Don’t automatically specify wires and cable because you don’t think wireless is ready for prime time. Contact your automation vendor or an appropriate system integrator for insights.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

ONLINE extra

Vote now on wireless related products included among the Control Engineering Engineers’ Choice Finalists. Wireless and mobility products are among the 2018 Engineers Choice Finalists. 

Network integration – Wireless

  • I/O NPort IAW5000A-6I/O 3-in-1 wireless serial server, Moxa Americas, www.moxa.com 
  • WI-I/O-2-E-N-GBL industrial wireless modem and I/O, Weidmuller, www.weidmuller.com 

Network integration – Wireless products

  • ZumIQ App Server IIoT programmable radio, FreeWave Technologies, www.freewave.com 
  • FL WLAN 1101 wireless module, Phoenix Contact, www.phoenixcontact.com/us 
  • Sinamics V20 Smart Access web server module, Siemens, www.usa.siemens.com 

Software – HMI software (Modern HMI software can readily reconfigure for use by mobile devices.)

  • IntegraXor V6 SCADA/HMI with alarm trending and reporting features, Ecava, www.integraxor.com 
  • InduSoft Web Studio 8.1 platform agnostic SCADA/HMI development and runtime software, Schneider Electric Software, www.indusoft.com 
  • VTScada 11.3 HMI/SCADA software, Trihedral Engineering, www.trihedral.com 

Software – Industrial Internet of Things connectivity (Greater information integration and access is among the tenets of the IIoT)

  • IoT Gateway, Bosch Rexroth, www.boschrexroth-us.com 
  • KEPServerEX V6 device and IoT connectivity software, Kepware, www.kepware.com 

Software – Mobile apps for controls, automation, instrumentation