• By Andre Ristaino
  • System Integration
Swinging for the fence with wireless technology
ISA100 Wireless community experience

By Andre Ristaino

End-user surveys conducted over the past five years have listed reliability and security as the two most important factors inhibiting adoption of wireless technology in manufacturing. During this time, many end-user companies performed structured studies to learn for themselves what is real and what is wireless marketing hype, and the ISA100 Wireless Compliance Institute published some of these independent studies and their findings. Here are two studies showing positive findings for wireless technology.

2014 Nippon Steel & Sumikin Engineering

This project studied the reliability of ISA100 Wireless communications and multivendor interoperability in a steel plant. The study concluded that the reliability as measured by packet error rates was more than sufficient and recommended moving forward with wireless technology. It also concluded that mixed vendor configurations demonstrated seamless interoperability.

2015 Petronas

This project studied the reliability of native ISA100 Wireless communications between two floating offshore oil platforms performing remote gas monitoring for a safety application. They were 5 km apart in the South Pacific Ocean during monsoon season. The study showed that zero packets were lost in the wireless transmission between the two platforms, concluding that ISA100 Wireless was reliable in this case.

Getting to the bottom of it

However, not everyone is convinced, causing us to look a little deeper. Surveys conducted during 2017 Wireless Compliance Institute (WCI) end-user events repeated the same set of questions to gauge what, if anything, regarding end-user adoption of wireless technology has changed in the past five years.

This time, survey results were aggregated into two groups: end users who have not implemented wireless technology and end users who have implemented wireless technology. We asked, "What are the key factors inhibiting adoption of wireless technology in manufacturing?" Response from end users who have not implemented wireless technology:

  1. reliability
  2. security

Response from end users who have implemented wireless technology:

  1. cost
  2. availability of new applications

The two themes here are fear of the unknown for end users who have no real-world experience with wireless technology; and I want to do more with wireless and now want it cheaper for those who do have real-world experience with wireless technology.

Most of the companies with wireless application experience started small with noncritical applications, such as asset monitoring, during the early phases. They gained confidence as they became familiar with the technology. Experienced end users have now expanded into safety and reliability applications.

Interestingly, at ISA100 wireless standards committee meetings between 2007-2009, the then ISA100 committee co-chairman Wayne Manges, PhD, from Oak Ridge National Laboratory repeatedly predicted that the future of wireless was low-cost "lick and stick" sensors. Manges saw a future of ubiquitous low-cost sensing/instrumentation, Internet of Things (IoT), and useful, not-yet-invented applications fueled by wireless enablement.

This year, the ISA100 Wireless Compliance Institute awarded its Excellence in Automation Award to Alcoa, whose application of wireless technology seems to bear out many predictions made by Manges, including ubiquitous wireless connectivity, lower-cost sensors, and wireless closed-loop control.

Alcoa was recognized for its visionary work with wireless technology. In 2014, Alcoa made ISA100 Wireless technology its global standard across refinery operations. The company established engineering standards, installed wireless infrastructure and monitoring equipment, and developed wireless training modules and support processes.

In 2015 Alcoa formed a wireless advisory board to provide corporate governance for wireless technology implementation and developed instrumentation selection criteria.

From 2016 to 2018, it has worked with its vendor to develop new ISA100 Wireless instruments for its specific needs, including a lower-cost, lightweight wireless pressure transmitter; a wireless safety shower panic button; a multiuse wireless push button; and an ISA100 Wireless serial interface for use on in-house specialty analyzers. Additionally, the company enabled Wi-Fi in the process area, supporting a global, connected worker initiative. Alcoa's objectives in selecting ISA100 Wireless as an enabling technology were to:

  • provide an engineered, secured, managed, and integrated wireless network in alumina refinery process areas
  • support mobile operators using handheld devices
  • allow wireless connectivity of process control system or EHM equipment that is either remote or mobile
  • enable IIoT and IoT in the future

The adoption and implementation of ISA100 Wireless has reduced capital expenditure related to installation of process/condition monitoring instruments, increased deployment speeds, facilitated troubleshooting via mobile and temporary sensors, and extended monitoring applications to moving equipment. The complete presentation of Alcoa's work is on the WCI website (https://isa100wci.org/en-US/Learning-Center/Presentations).

With 100 percent wireless coverage at operating sites, Alcoa has reduced the time to instrument a process from 3-6 months using wired sensors to three days or less using wireless sensors. This capability provides a huge return on investment (ROI), especially for quickly analyzing processes for optimization or temporarily troubleshooting an asset or process.

Based upon ISA100 Wireless, Alcoa is now learning to apply wireless to closed-loop control in a noncritical application for water tower level management. Over time, Alcoa expects to expand wireless into more critical process control applications.

Wireless has been making big inroads in safety applications. The Draeger GS01 wireless gas sensor was implemented in a SIL-2 certified safety loop (the full loop is SIL-2, not just the gas sensor), and end users are finding wireless to be extremely useful for alarm monitoring. Alcoa has added wireless alarms to all safety wash-down stations, notifying the safety staff of the location of any wash station that was triggered. ISA100 Wireless technology conferences during 2017 focused on wireless for reliability and safety applications. Presentations from the October 2017 Taipei event contain descriptions of ISA100 Wireless applications supporting safety and improved reliability for plant operations.

The next chapter in the wireless story is scale. The deployment of ISA100 Wireless for 100 percent site coverage at Alcoa is a large-scale wireless infrastructure deployment and sets the stage for ubiquitous sensing.

In another use case, hundreds and thousands of steam trap monitors are currently being deployed at hydrocarbon processing sites using ISA100 Wireless networks. Steam trap monitors offer huge ROI, with typical payback in 12 months or less due to device efficiency improvements and reductions in device maintenance costs. We expect to have a real-world story describing lessons learned and benefits realized by this time next year.

Andre Ristaino (right), managing director, ISA100 Wireless Compliance Institute, presents the 2017 ISA100 Wireless Excellence in Automation Award to Chester Davidson, global services manager, Alcoa, at the February 2018 ARC Industry Forum in Orlando.

Quietly growing

The 2017 ON World Market Report on industrial wireless sensor networks and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) said that ISA100 Wireless is the fastest growing industrial wireless mesh standard, with adoption increasing at 2.5 times the pace of its leading competitor. ISA100 Wireless adoption increased 67 percent over the past two years. Major factors driving ISA100 Wireless adoption over its competition include:

  • flexible time scheduling
  • software and protocol tunneling
  • support for flexible topologies, such as star and mesh

These features are especially important for growing wireless applications, such as gas detection, steam trap monitoring, and oil and gas well site remote monitoring.

Suppliers had reduced cost and faster time to market for wireless product offerings using ISA100 Wireless. Complex products with proprietary protocols can be converted economically with the protocol tunneling and object technology features of ISA100 Wireless. For example, the GE Bentley Nevada vibration monitoring application was implemented using protocol tunneling, and the host applications remained unchanged. Further, the ISA100 Wireless network capabilities allow the large wave form data sets to be transmitted through native ISA100 Wireless networks. Enraf radar level gauges were similarly converted; these instruments also use large wave form data sets.

Novel uses of ISA100 Wireless include a specialized ISA100 Wireless network and wireless handheld control for loading crane applications at shipping ports, as well as use of ISA100 Wireless networks onboard communication satellites. Native IPv6 to the device provides the advanced features of the updated IP protocol as well as future-proofing device addressing. Further, recent engineering graduates are typically familiar with open standards-based IP addressing schemes, making the technology uptake easier.

Staying relevant for process industry

Although ISA100 Wireless is useful outside of the traditional process industry, Wireless Compliance Institute members remain focused on their process industry roots. Through an agreement with Fieldbus Foundation (now FCG), WCI standardized on device description (DD) specifications based on the Fieldbus Foundation specifications, thus ensuring device compatibility with host control systems.

WCI formed a collaboration agreement with FDT, and in 2014 jointly announced availability of an ISA100 Wireless annex to make FDT device type managers useable by ISA100 Wireless devices. Through collaboration with FCG, WCI developed an ISA100 Wireless annex for the FDI platform, an important process industry initiative. WCI customers can now generate FDI DD specifications through the ISA100 Wireless FDI annex or through FDT technology, whichever they prefer.

What is next?

ISA100 WCI suppliers continue to expand the portfolio of ISA100 Wireless products and applications that support traditional process industry needs. However, there is also expansion into new applications that require high reliability and the advanced features of ISA100 Wireless. While still robust, sensors and gateways are appearing in smaller, less expensive packaging and moving into adjacent industry verticals. Shoebox-sized gateways are now appearing in packaging the size of a deck of cards.

WCI is investing in improvements to the ISA100 Wireless implementation specification, third-party technology offerings, and the supporting technology ecosystem to benefit existing and new suppliers. In midyear 2018, WCI will announce the availability date of an offering that significantly reduces the cost and time to convert wired devices to wireless.

Open standards and multivendor interoperability continue to be the foundation of ISA100 Wireless. In addition to standardized device testing and certification, WCI conducts interoperability trials one or two times per year to ensure that the ISA100 Wireless brand promise of interoperability works in the real world. These are fun events (see the 2017 Taipei summary on the website) that generate goodwill among members and provide opportunities for business networking. WCI gains valuable feedback from ISA100 Wireless suppliers at these events, which helps to guide the WCI technology road map.

“Heat map” showing typical Alcoa operating area coverage using wireless technology.

Summary of Alcoa wireless results.

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About The Authors

Andre Ristaino is managing director of the ISA Automation Standards Compliance Institute (ASCI) based in Research Triangle Park, N.C. He provides staff leadership for ISA’s conformance certification programs, including the ISASecure IACS certification program managed under the ISCI. The ISA100 Wireless Compliance Institute functions as an operational group within ASCI. Before ISA, Ristaino held positions at NEMA, Renaissance Worldwide, and Deloitte & Touche Consulting’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Group, where he was a recognized leader in system life-cycle methodologies. Ristaino earned a BS in business management from the University of Maryland, College Park, and an MS in computer systems applications from the American University in Washington, D.C., with a focus on expert systems and artificial intelligence. Ristaino holds an APICS CPIM certification.