Wireless HART: Report from the user’s roundtable

By Control Engineering Staff March 7, 2007

The Wireless HART user’s roundtable meeting happened in February, as scheduled. It was offered by the HART Foundation as an opportunity for concerned end users to hear about the progress of the new wireless communication standard and offer feedback as to the direction the committee is taking. Of the 25 or so people who attended the roundtable event, there were perhaps three who qualified as end users, if one uses a broad enough definition.

One was a logistics officer for the U.S. Army, along with a system integrator who is working to implement projects for him. The meeting was not very relevant for them in that their only wireless concerns relate to RFID applications. The third was a system integrator from Brazil.

The presentation was, ultimately, mostly for the benefit of companies that will be making equipment under the standard and members of the press. In that regard, much of the material was preaching to the choir. Ed Ladd, director, technology programs for the HART Foundation, did much of the presentation, after opening remarks by Harry Forbes of ARC Advisory Group. Forbes discussed ARC’s projections for wireless growth in the next few years, and made the interesting comment that the value proposition to end users for using wireless instrumentation will be clearer than the early attempts to sell fieldbus technology.

As a representative of a group that is trying to promote wireless technology, Ladd was very low key. In his view, wireless should only be used for communicating diagnostic data, not critical process variables. It will certainly not replace wired instrumentation. ‘I’m not sure I want to live next to a chemical plant that has critical control on wireless,’ he cautioned at one point. Wireless communication is only one of several ways to retrieve and use HART data and should only be used in appropriate circumstances.

The application that he sees advancing the most quickly will be using wireless networking to transmit diagnostic data in legacy environments. Since the vast majority of HART enabled instruments have no means to communicate that information, this will provide a path to increase the usefulness of these devices at minimal cost. The end result will be better information gathering in legacy systems.

The 17 companies in the working group and others waiting for the standard to emerge will have to wait for end user feedback. Suggesting reasons for a lack of participation in this meeting would only be speculation beyond the likely conclusion that companies are simply not going to get excited until something more significant happens. In the meantime, you can offer comments to the working group via the HART Foundation.

For more information on the Wireless HART protocol, read ISA Expo 2006: New wireless capability will bring smart sensors to legacy environments

— Control Engineering daily news desk Peter Welander , process industries editor