Wireless: Incompatibilities, more applications, users help ISA standard

By Control Engineering Staff January 4, 2007

Wireless sensing has increased despite vendor incompatibilities, according to Frost & Sullivan ; In-Stat suggests wireless applications are taking flight among more businesses; and the ISA wireless standard effort for automation (SP-100) formed a working group to get more end-user input.

Wireless applications are expanding to other industrial, commercial, and consumer sectors, after years of use for supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). As wireless advantages motivate use of wireless sensors, vendor incompatibilities are slowing market expansion, suggests research firm . “Greater adoption of wireless technology is attributed to its proven reliability, cost effectiveness, and ability to offer real-world industrial technologies,” says Dr. R. Thusu, Frost & Sullivan industry analyst. “Although reliability issues have challenged the technology in the past, drastic improvements in technology as well as recent innovations in hardware and software have ensured notable improvements in the reliability levels.

“Issues related to interoperability of multi-vendor equipment pose significant challenges for the companies playing in global wireless sensor and transmitter markets. Wireless communication technology is successful only if the network and mobile equipment of different vendors can communicate, and the embedding of proprietary software is serving to further aggravate this challenge, slowing adoption rates.

At least 75% of U.S. businesses have at least one wireless data application , says In-Stat. Organizations, primarily large ones, focus on more sophisticated and valuable applications of wireless data networks, reports the research firm. Most organizations start with basic applications, such as wireless email and virtual private networks (VPNs); larger and more experienced organizations have plans for more sophisticated solutions. “Widespread adoption of wireless data technology, which has been forecast as expanding quickly ‘two years from now’ since the late 1970s, is finally here,” says Bill Hughes, In-Stat analyst. “The nature of the productivity benefits vary by vertical market, but the value is universal.” In spite of the great benefits, as well as significant costs and risks, many companies leave implementation decisions to individuals, In-Stat says in its research, “Wireless Data in the Enterprise: The Hockey Stick Arrives.” In-Stat and Control Engineering are part of Reed Business Information, said to be the largest U.S. business-to-business publisher.

End-users can be more involved in ISA’s emerging wireless standard since a new user working group formed in December 2006 to give feedback to the ISA’s SP-100 committee, Wireless Standards for Automation, and its technical working groups. The SP-100 User Working Group (UWG) will focus on current and future industrial applications for wireless technology and provide input to help development of ISA-100 compliant devices from multiple suppliers. “In a recent meeting held via teleconference with several end users, the users clearly identified a need for an increased focus on security as part of the standard,” said Greg LaFramboise of Chevron, UWG co-chair. Initial requests seek definitions of parameters for security in the wireless environment, LaFramboise said; the UWG will provide feedback on committees’ work. The UWG will develop a “User Requirements” document, in users’ language by February 2007, as a means to provide on-going, real-time input and feedback as a mechanism for end-user communications throughout the standards development process. WIB, the International Instrument Users’ Association, also gave input through a contingent of European users to provide input to the ISA SP-100.11a effort. WIB provides process instrumentation evaluation and assessment services for, and on behalf of, its industrial user member companies. WIB operates in close collaboration with similar associations in France, the UK, and Germany. WIB representatives attending the meeting include individuals from DOW, DuPont, Akzo-Nobel, and Heineken. Commenting about greater user participation, Ian Verhappen, ISA vice present of standards and practices, said, “There’s no better way to ensure a user-friendly standard.”

For more information on the SP-100 committee, or any of ISA’s standards committees, visit www.isa.org/standards .

For more from Control Engineering , see ” Industry leaders ponder: what do wireless customers want? “

As previously reported, as of Jan. 1, the ISA Website now offers standards documents free to members. Click here to see a full list and prices for non-members.

—Edited by Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering editor in chief