Wireless I/O Solutions for Industrial Automation Applications
Wireless solutions for industrial automation applications are in high demand as companies look for cost-effective, technically feasible ways to implement secure, reliable data communications technology. Many diverse and dynamic markets are looking for ways to streamline their operations and automate their processes. In process dependent industries such as oil and gas, manufacturing, chemical, food and beverage, water and wastewater and electric power it is increasingly rare to see processes that rely on human decisions and manual interaction. This is because relying on human judgment and reactions introduces variability in reliability, timeliness and quality. From a customer’s perspective, variability in these areas reduces the perceived quality of a service or product. From the organization’s perspective, variability creates significant challenges in growing revenue, capping expenses and maintaining consistent quality of service.
The earliest I/O installations succeeded in taking measurements and controlling process elements to automate key process decisions, with some pains. In water and wastewater for example, I/O was used to report information on tank levels to ensure full tanks and adequate pressure or supply for transmission and distribution. In oil and gas, I/O was introduced to monitor plunger arrival to increase gas production of old wells. Despite the benefits, there were numerous challenges the earliest projects required technicians and engineers learn new technologies and use out of the box problem solving skills.
The newest I/O products offer major functional improvements. Arguably, the biggest differentiator is wireless I/O. Wireless I/O removes the enormous challenge of running cable from the point of measurement or control to the process controller. Wireless I/O delivers the most cost effective method to monitor and optimize a process that spans between 100 feet and 100 miles. Cost savings are realized immediately by eliminating cables and conduits, trenching and construction crews, and permits. Cost savings also are realized over time with quick troubleshooting, over-the-air configuration changes and upgrades, and by eliminating cable management activities. Wireless I/O also can integrate directly into a larger wireless SCADA network to connect the corporate office with the field controllers, process measurements and control points. Furthermore, process security is enhanced with proprietary frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) wireless technologies.
FHSS technology helps transceivers successfully deliver secure I/O data, despite competing signals from other devices. FHSS technology varies the carrier frequency throughout the spectrum in a pattern recognized solely by the transceivers assigned to communicate with one another in the network. This technology is particularly well-suited for sending small packets of information, such as I/O in a noisy, high interference environment. Devices also can be equipped with external antennas, allowing radios to be mounted within a few feet of an obstruction, sending and receiving signals via antennas above the obstructions or interference.
Expandability is another differentiator in new I/O products. Some wireless I/O providers even offer expansion modules with an extremely high density of I/O. This allows users to install a small set of I/O in a critical location of their process up front, knowing that more can be added at any point in the future. Expansion modules are connected directly without additional mounting hardware, allowing up to 200 I/O points at a single location easily. Adopting an expandable platform is often justified by additional monitoring mandated by the government, new process technologies that require more points for monitoring and control for higher process output and for peace of mind knowing that more points are easy to add no matter what the future brings.
Wireless I/O solutions using secure industrial grade technology offers an evolutionary opportunity to turn more information into knowledge across geographically dispersed assets, leading to optimized productivity, improved safety and asset reliability. This information is vital to companies who want to create and maintain a significant competitive advantage. In addition, wireless I/O provides improved leverage of existing infrastructures, allows for better resource optimization, and gains relief from the current budget crunch in order to build a strong foundation for future growth.
Above all, the newest I/O products provide more data with less effort. In addition to wireless and expandability, features such as universal channel configurability, measurement accuracy, device reliability, backwards compatibility, and ease of use also enhance the usability of new I/O devices. Your new I/O devices should deliver a single, remarkably simple product to install and use for all your process optimization and condition monitoring applications.
Posted by Janine E. Mooney, Editor
February 21, 2012