The Wireless Plant: It’s About Information (and the Cost of Getting It)

A few days ago, I listened in on a webcast sponsored by WINA, the Wireless Industrial Networking Alliance, on “Choosing the Right Wireless Technology for Industrial Applications.” The main thrust of the webcast was to provide clarity around both ZigBee and Wireless HART standards for wireless usage in and around plants. It was a good, technical program if industrial wireless is your thing. (For example, there’s a very good discussion on how Wireless HART sensors practice “channel hopping” to avoid issues with wireless signal noise and dead zones within a facility. There’s also a good case study presentation by RFM Wireless on storage container temperature monitoring.)

WINA tells me that, due to a technical glitch, the webcast was not taped for on-demand viewing; they were kind enough to provide us with a PDF of the webcast slides.

Gary Mintchell, Editor in Chief of Automation World, premised the program with a few thoughts on why wireless technologies matter. It’s all about data collection and cost savings, he says:

Wireless technology is often called a “game changer” in process automation. What is it that makes it a game changer? The real reason has little to do with process control. Certainly, wireless is going to help with process control.

There’s an even greater reason: We need information. Our company’s put in ERP systems and were sold on the premise of being able to operate their plants better based upon all this data. But then they said, oops, we’re not getting this data. . . .

To put more sensors into a plant is expensive . . . and it’s not easy to do. We need technologies that will get out there and make it easy and inexpensive. If we could just get that information back without breaking the bank, that would be fantastic.

The real goal is, how do we run our plants and our factories much more efficiently and profitably than we have in the past? This is the context within which all wireless discussions take place.