19 October 2006
Honeywell offers 'wireless cloud' at MCAA
By Nicholas Sheble
Industrial wireless users already take the technology for granted—testimony to its reliability—and those not yet using wireless are hesitant for the usual reasons.
That is the word from two engineers, Revathi Advaithi and David Kaufman from Honeywell Industrial Measurement and Control, on Wednesday morning at the Measurement, Control & Automation Association (MCAA) 2006 Industry Breakfast in Houston. Advaithi is a vice president at Honeywell and a mechanical engineer. Kaufman is a director and an industrial engineer.
“The novelty of wireless has worn off, and its reliability is taken for granted by those using it,” said Advaithi in her opening remarks.
She recited a litany of nodes (millions) and patents (hundreds) and installations (hundreds) and products (lots) that Honeywell already has out there in the market. A point of her message was not so much the technology itself but the amount of feedback the company has available to it from its customers via its Voice-of-the-Customer (VoC) program.
Honeywell and a few other large players have ongoing programs that focus on bringing the VoC into their new product development processes. This is a competitive advantage to Honeywell as it moves its wireless product line forward.
Kaufman listed the concerns of the newer adopters and those considering wireless. The automation community is familiar with these “usual suspects.”
Customers want the system to be reliable and secure. They want it to work right away, and they do not want dropped signals or eavesdropping by outsiders.
Customers do not want any problems regarding power. It is wireless, so they don’t want plugs or solar panels or generators. They want the batteries to last a long time.
Customers want one solution no matter what the “need of their speeds.” They do not want multiple networks or gateways to accommodate 1-second updates, 1-minute updates, 30-minute updates, and so on.
Customers want to be able to start small and expand their adoption. Some folks have started with five points, and some eventually want to go to 30,000 wireless points. They just want to add those points on and not have to call in an “Einstein” to reconfigure the system. They also want to start off monitoring temperatures, pressures, levels, and the like using wireless, but they someday want to not only read with wireless, they want to control the process, indeed, control the plant, with wireless.
Finally, customers want a single standard for wireless. They want ISA-100.
Kaufman said Honeywell has taken care of all of these matters with their technology except the last one—the standard.
“However,” Kaufman averred, “Honeywell is a charter member of ISA-SP100 and has offered its technology to the committee as aide in building the official standard.”
Kaufman said the heart of Honeywell’s technology is wireless mesh networking and that seems also to be the direction the ISA committee is taking as it decides on the technologies involved. There are a number of competing protocols.
Wireless mesh networking uses a Wireless LAN (local area network). It is a wireless co-operative communication infrastructure between several of individual wireless transceivers (i.e. a wireless mesh).
Each device is a multi-channel repeater/transceiver. This type of infrastructure is decentralized (with no central service provider), relatively inexpensive, and very reliable and resilient, as each node need only transmit as far as the next node.
Nodes act as repeaters to transmit data from nearby nodes to peers that are too far away to reach, resulting in a network that can span large distances, especially over rough or difficult terrain.
Mesh networks are also extremely reliable, as each node connects to several other nodes. If one node drops out of the network, due to hardware failure or any other reason, its neighbors simply find another route.
Extra capacity can add in by simply adding more nodes. Mesh networks may involve either fixed or mobile devices.
The solutions are as diverse as communications in difficult environments from emergencies, tunnels, and oilrigs to battlefield surveillance and high speed mobile video applications on board public transport or real-time racing car telemetry.
Since this wireless Internet infrastructure has the potential to be much cheaper than the traditional type, many wireless community network groups are already creating wireless mesh networks.
“There exists in the marketplace tremendous opportunity for wireless technology,” finalized Kaufman. “Honeywell is supporting an open approach to provide customers with choices to accelerate standards and to increase adoption of wireless. We invite you to be a part of the wireless Honeywell cloud.”
For related information, go to www.isa.org/productivity.
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