Emerson: Wireless technologies revolutionise  plant management

Wireless technologies have changed the way people live, providing a means for everyone to get in touch with anyone when and where. In the process industries, the same technologies are used by organisations to improve their operations, particularly in the areas of maintenance, security, and health safety, and environmental (HSE) performance.

Wireless is now implemented in thousands of industrial facilities in more than 120 countries around the world. An important event that caused this widespread adoption was the creation of a multi-vendor, interoperable industry standard.

The international standard IEC62591 or WirelessHART is the first standard developed specifically to meet the needs of the process industries. It was established by the HART Communication Foundation (HCF) in collaboration with end-users, process equipment vendors, and engineering and communication experts. WirelessHART was ratified in September 2007 by the HCF and approved by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in 2010.

Having achieved the benefits of wireless technologies in the past few years, organisations are quickly moving forward to wider and more complex wireless implementation. In the oil and gas sector, for instance, pump and steam trap monitoring used to be a lengthy and expensive process involving physical inspection and laborious data collection in distant field and plant locations. With wireless technologies, these issues are gone. Operators can now obtain a wealth of equipment health information remotely and anywhere.

Numerous organisations have also started to implement plant-wide tracking applications to address workforce productivity, security, and HSE performance. These tracking applications offer varying degrees of location accuracy depending on budget and business needs.

For standard tracking, plant operators use Wi-Fi Active Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) access badges to ensure that people are allowed or restricted to enter specific plant areas according to their roles, and that the movement of assets from one plant area to another is monitored in real time. For hazardous plant areas where tracking people is more critical, operators build a stronger Wi-Fi network infrastructure and deploy numerous sensing points to obtain more accurate information and quickly address safety incidents should these occur.

Security is a concern in using wireless, and this is why vendors like Emerson design their technologies with robust, multi-tiered, always-on security that uses the most advanced techniques. Wireless is the next inflection point in the process industries, and hesitant adopters should realise that they should leverage this innovation now if they don’t want to fall further behind the curve.


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