January/February 2010

System Integration

Open industrial wireless application networks

Integrated support for ISA100 and WirelessHART networks means moving forward without fear of being trapped in a single-vendor solution or a dead-end standard

Fast Forward

  • An open, standards-based industrial networking appliance and devices offer processing manufacturers the option to choose either ISA100.11a or WirelessHART standards with 802.11 (WiFi) radios.
  • An open, integrated wireless application network enables plants to use many "best of breed" applications for increased ROI and lower total investment costs.
 
By Stephen Lambright and Sarah Prinster

Open standards-based wireless application networks are secure, reliable, and scalable, and they allow plants to choose precisely the right wireless applications, devices, and technologies for plug-and-play interoperability. Open industrial wireless networks require wireless networking appliances that seamlessly integrate wireless sensor network gateways based on either ISA100.11a or WirelessHART standards with 802.11 (WiFi) radios to support other industrial wireless applications such as mobility, location, video, and communications and to enable efficient backhaul of sensor data wirelessly. By supporting devices with these standards, industrial facilities will be equipped with the easiest, most cost-effective way to gather accurate and timely information to improve safety, product quality, and productivity plant-wide.

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Benefits of an open industrial wireless application network

  • An open, standards-based industrial networking appliance and devices offer processing manufacturers the option to choose either ISA100.11a or WirelessHART standards with 802.11 (WiFi) radios.
  • Wireless sensor networks can enable better, more timely data into your control system, predictive maintenance, or asset management application. 
  • The new generation of wireless network technology and standards offer a tremendous opportunity to realize significant improvements in the overall efficiency of your plant. 
  • Condition monitoring based on an open, standards-based wireless application network enables cost-effective, reliable, and safe instrumentation for critical facility measurements needed to optimize plant efficiency. 
  • Wireless instruments based on ISA100.11a or WirelessHART deliver data to the full range of maintenance, safety, and security applications.
  • Reliable, long-range, high bandwidth wireless broadband technologies like WiMAX (IEEE 802.16) have been ruggedized for industrial environments and applications. These industrial broadband networks are designed to deliver improved reliability and wireless capacity.
  • An open, integrated wireless application network enables plants to use many "best of breed" applications for increased ROI and lower total investment costs, which can be sustained for many years.

Wireless technologies at work

One does not have to look far to see major automation vendors are increasingly integrating wireless technologies into their products.  Going wireless is seen as a way to cost effectively add more process monitoring capabilities, enhance workforce mobility, improve safety and security, and drive greater utilization of assets, raw materials, and energy. However, for wireless to work in manufacturing environments, the technologies must deliver reliable performance, security, and ease of use. 

Although wireless is heralded as the next big thing in automation, it certainly is not new. The move to use wireless technology to reduce costs and improve efficiency has been underway for some time in manufacturing organizations.  What has changed is the emergence of products, applications, and standards to address the specific challenges for using wireless in large manufacturing facilities. By extending the range and lowering the costs of plant and process network communications, this new generation of wireless network technology offers a tremendous opportunity to realize significant improvements in the overall efficiency of the plant. 

Wireless sensor networks can enable better, more timely data into your control system, predictive maintenance, or asset management application. Operators in the field are now able to see the control system and review standard operating conditions, procedures, and corrective actions in real time as they make field adjustments. Security departments are using wireless as a means to improve security and achieve timely compliance with increasing regulations by wirelessly adding video monitoring, along with improved access control and intrusion detection. Other technologies and applications such as voice communications and asset tracking use wireless to enable productivity gains that have already been realized in other industries such as healthcare and transportation.

In some cases, these benefits were simply too costly to achieve by running wires, while in others they simply could not be done without wireless networks. Going forward, the challenge is to ensure the best of breed industrial wireless solutions are secure, reliable, scalable, and simple to operate. Overcoming that challenge requires a clear understanding of the alternative technologies and how to best apply them.

Choosing the right wireless technology

As the list of wireless applications grows, so do the number of wireless devices and systems that support these applications. This application growth adds complexity from using multiple wireless technologies to address each application's specific requirements for coverage, latency, and throughput.

Most wireless systems have been designed to use public frequencies. The frequency sharing is made easier by the emergence of robust standards for communications, but standards alone are not enough. Standards assure the proper function of the systems with a given set of cost/performance characteristics and a basis for interoperability-but no single wireless technology or standard is capable of being the single solution for every application.

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This diversity of cost/performance tradeoffs among the dozens of available industrialized wireless networking technologies dictates users choose the most effective technology and devices for a specific application. There is not a "one-size-fits-all" wireless networking technology that adequately supports the diverse and demanding requirements of the many different kinds of industrial applications and environments.

Standards-based technologies like WiFi (IEEE 802.11) have been hardened for mobile workers to take ruggedized tablet PCs and PDAs into the plant. Other radios like those based on IEEE 802.15.4 have been optimized to support wireless sensor networks for industrial instrumentation via the ISA100.11a and WirelessHART standards. Standards for wireless instrumentation and condition monitoring ISA100.11a and WirelessHART enable the creation of scalable, integrated applications based on wireless sensor networks.  Wireless sensor networks based on ISA100.11a or WirelessHART deliver data to the full range of maintenance, safety, and security applications. 

In addition, reliable, long-range, high bandwidth wireless technologies like WiMAX (IEEE 802.16) have been ruggedized for industrial environments and applications.  These industrial broadband networks are designed to deliver improved reliability and wireless capacity.

Managing an invisible asset

There is an extremely important asset you own and control. However, if you do not manage this asset effectively, it could turn into your greatest liability.  This asset is your airwaves-the radio-frequency spectrum available to you in and around your facility.  Imagine two to three years from now when you have hundreds or even thousands of wireless devices in your plant from dozens of vendors.  Just like your wired networks today, without the right tools for managing the secure, effective coexistence of your airwaves, the wireless networks will become unreliable, slow, and potentially create unintended security vulnerabilities. In addition, the choices you make today may limit your options in the future as new wireless technologies become available.  How do you avoid this looming wireless logjam and future-proof your wireless networks? There are three basic choices a plant can make in implementing wireless networks.

Choice 1:  Select a single vendor

Choosing all of your wireless networking applications from a single vendor gives you the advantage of an engineered system designed to integrate various wireless technologies into a single seamless system. Unfortunately, this choice locks you into a limited set of lowest-common-denominator proprietary "standards" that will leave you vulnerable to being held hostage by that vendor.  As new applications emerge and wireless technologies evolve, your dependence on that single vendor will limit your options and hold you back while your competitors move forward. 

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Choice 2:  Select best-of-breed for each application need

The second option is to review the unique needs of your operations, facilities, and desired applications and choose the best wireless technology for the specific applications.  This best-of-breed approach will have a better chance of delivering the performance and reliability for that one specific solution. But each best-of-breed point solution you deploy will demand its own infrastructure and management system, requiring an investment in technology and manpower. Each point-solution, wireless technology, and application will also require its own wireless infrastructure, network management, and security approach. Each additional wireless application will be much more expensive to deploy and manage, making it difficult to establish a positive return on your investment in any single wireless technology or application.

Choice 3: Select an open, scalable wireless network

It is obvious wireless technologies are not standing still. There will be new wireless technologies, tools, devices, and applications becoming available over the next decade. Locking yourself into a single vendor or an inflexible, dedicated network and point-solution wireless system will not let you easily take advantage of new technologies as they become available. 

The answer is to have a single shared wireless application network that allows plug-and-play interoperability, management, and security of any wireless devices and applications-regardless of their radio frequency, protocol, or application.  A truly open wireless application network will allow you to choose exactly the right wireless device and application for your plant.  This wireless application network also delivers greater application flexibility and cost certainty with an engineered approach that creates a network of systems and integrated applications based on open standards, best practices, and vendor neutrality across all your wireless applications. 

The choice should be easy. The financial and operations benefits of industrial wireless are most effectively realized with Choice 3. By using the best tools for the job and an open wireless infrastructure, you will avoid the limitations of a single vendor solution and the constraints imposed by numerous point solution wireless applications.  Instead, you will enjoy the full breadth of benefits of wireless in all areas of plant operations.

ABOUT THE AUTHORs

Stephen Lambright (slambright@apprion.com), a co-founder of Apprion, is the company's vice president of Customer Services and Marketing and has over 15 years of international experience in enterprise solution design, development, deployment, marketing, and management.  Sarah Prinster (sarah.prinster@apprion.com) is Apprion's director of Marketing.

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