• The ISA100 Wireless standard recently gained final IEC approval as IEC 62734. Why is that so important?

    In mid-September, ISA announced through a press release that ANSI/ISA-100.11a-2011, "Wireless Systems for Industrial Automation: Process Control and Related Applications," received unanimous final approval by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) as an international standard. The standard will be published by the end of this year with the designation IEC 62734.

    In this Q&A feature, Andre Ristaino, Managing Director of ISA's Automation Standards Compliance Institute (ASCI), explains why the recent IEC action is so significant, and provides informative background on the development, value and differentiation of the ISA100 Wireless standard.  For more information on IS100 Wireless, visit the ISA100 Wireless Compliance Institute's website - www.isa100wci.org.

    Q. What is the significance of the IEC's unanimous final approval of the ISA100 Wireless standard (now IEC 62734)?

    A. More than 150,000 ISA100 Wireless devices have been deployed and more than one billion hours of operational experience have been gained with the technology around the globe since 2009. While the fundamental ISA100.11a specifications are largely unchanged, becoming IEC 62734 is very important outside North America.  It means that the standard has been formally vetted and accepted by committees representing 52 countries around the globe.  In some jurisdictions products must be compliant to IEC standards as a procurement requirement.  It also means that the standard includes features sufficient for supporting compliance with radio regulations (like the FCC in the USA or ETSI in the EU) in those 52 countries.

    Q. Could you briefly explain how and why the ISA100 Wireless standard was developed?

    A. A 2002 US Department of Energy-Industrial Technologies Program initiative funded R&D on the value of wireless technologies for improving energy efficiency, reducing consumption, and optimizing processes.  The resulting report (Industrial Wireless Technology for the 21st Century) created the original impetus for establishing a new wireless networking standard. The DOE then sponsored Wayne Manges, the Program Manager at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the volunteer committee chairman in ISA's open-consensus ANSI-accredited standards development process, to create the industrial wireless standard.  It is important because it was based on open standards (non-proprietary) and was designed with interoperability in mind so any supplier can adopt the technology and be assured it works with any other device based on the standard.

    Q. Overall, why is wireless communication becoming more valuable and widespread?

    A. There are several reasons. First, let's examine the advantages of wireless in general.

    • Wireless costs less to install and maintain than wired.
    • Wireless can be used where wires cannot, thus extending coverage of the wireless sensor network.  For example, used inside a rotating drum, wireless sensors eliminate the old 'slip ring' technology.

    The ISA100 Wireless standard moves wireless technology to the future.

    • In simple terms, the standard allows two ISA100 Wireless devices to communicate directly with one another and to directly control processes in the field without commands from a host system.
    • Secondly, its modular architecture allows device suppliers to use ISA100 Wireless in creative ways.  Here are some more technical examples of this:  GasSecure added a ProfiSafe layer on the stack to create a SIL 2 gas detector and Ultra-3Eti added a FIPS 140-2 encryption capability, allowing it to meet US military specifications.  GE uses ISA100 Wireless object technology to transmit large wave form data, still encoded in the proprietary GE protocol, from vibration sensors to analytic workstations in near-real-time (requiring less application programming changes and faster time to market for GE for vibration sensors).
    • As a whole, the ISA100 Wireless standard delivers improved reliability, control, cost savings, and scalability, and is the first completely wireless security solution on the market. 

    In terms of trends, end-users are gaining greater experience with wireless technology (although it does vary by geographic region) and adoption rates are increasing due to maturing product offerings and end-user comfort with the wireless application usage.

    Q. In what type of business or manufacturing environments is the ISA100 Wireless standard used?

    A. ISA100 is a family of standards governing wireless technologies. The first to be completed was ISA100.11a, which focused upon the needs of process industries. Although the first products to be developed for ISA100 Wireless were devices like temperature and pressure sensors, typical of the process manufacturing industry, ISA100 Wireless is appropriate for many use-cases.  We will be hosting a webinar in the upcoming month about a temperature and vibration sensor system developed for the European Space Agency. This is used on a satellite to collect and transmit temperature and vibration data during its Assembly, Integration and Testing (AIT) phase. It is also being used in safety and environmental monitoring applications as well. For more information on ISA100 Wireless' use cases, visit the ISA100 Wireless Compliance Intitute's website - www.isa100wci.org.

    Q. Why do you even need a standard for wireless communications?

    A. The standard is necessary to create a level playing field for device suppliers and encourage participation, establish the basis for device interoperability among suppliers and deliver a thoroughly vetted specification meeting the needs of all stakeholders.

    Q. What other standards does ISA100 compete with … and what are the advantages of ISA100 over the other options?

    A. ISA100 Wireless is most often compared to WirelessHART.  The two standards share the same 802.15.4 radio for the physical layer (replaces the wire) but that is about where the similarities end.  WirelessHART was designed to provide a wireless means to send Hart device commands to/from HART devices.  It is not a network infrastructure standard.  ISA100 Wireless supports visibility and management of thousands of IPv6 addressable devices using a one system/security manager. (Ipv6 is the latest version of Internet Protocol that provides an identification and location system for computers on networks and routes traffic. Wireless providers are recognizing that they must adopt and deploy IPv6, the newer and larger IP address version, in order to ensure continued growth.)

    Users cannot use anything but HART devices in a WirelessHart network.  WirelessHART is host/device command based whereas ISA100 Wireless supports objects, enabling devices to operate independently from the host for monitoring and control (CiF).  ISA100 Wireless supports any protocol in its network through the use of objects or protocol tunneling, including HART.  ISA100 Wireless supports IPv6 addressing down to each device on the network.  This is intuitive to any network support engineer and is the basis for the future generations of IP addressable devices.  Object technology and IPv6 addressing are the basis of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT).

    Q. What is the role of the ISA100 Wireless Compliance Institute?

    A. End users are seeking choices and risk avoidance.  The ISA100 Wireless Compliance Institute manages a rigorous conformance and interoperability testing program, giving end-users confidence that certified devices will work in any other supplier's ISA100 Wireless network.  End users do not want to be cornered into purchasing devices from one supplier; they like the choices and price competition that interoperability offers.  The market will select ISA100 Wireless more and more over the competing alternative as the number of suppliers supporting ISA100 Wireless expands and the portfolio of ISA100 Wireless devices increases.  Remember that WirelessHART has a three-year lead on ISA100 Wireless in terms of becoming an IEC standard.  The approval of IEC 62734 is certain to accelerate adoption of the ISA100 Wireless standard.