Houston, We Have Lift-off

Several interesting new products got launched at ISA Expo.

By Mark Rosenzweig, Editor in Chief

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The annual ISA Expo provides a good showcase of developments and trends in automation. This year’s event, held in mid-October in Houston (with the city still recovering from Hurricane Ike), was no exception. While the booths weren’t teeming with hordes of new products, a number of things caught my attention.

Wireless technology has become increasingly visible on the show floor over the last few years, and the trend certainly continued this October. No surprise there. While well-established for some duties like remote tank gauging, it’s still at the early stages of adoption for more challenging roles. But it’s starting to attract widespread interest at plants, as our cover story (p. 16) points out, because it promises significant benefits such as improved reliability and efficiency as well as better safety and environmental performance. Technical innovations (and standards compatibility) undoubtedly can markedly speed and spread its uptake by industry. Two developments particularly caught my eye.

GE Energy, Minden, Nev., unveiled a condition-monitoring package called Essential Insight.mesh that wirelessly communicates data about equipment using a self-forming and self-healing mesh network to the company’s established System 1 software platform. The basic hardware package consists of four battery-powered wireless nodes that each can handle up to four inputs; 16 sensors (all for vibration, all for temperature, or half and half); a repeater to extend the range of communication; and a gateway to the wired world. The system can accommodate a high number of sensors; new nodes are automatically detected. At typical scan rates, the batteries should last two to three years, says the company.

In addition, GE Energy offers an optional Energy Harvester, a unit that uses technology developed by Perpetuum (www.ChemicalProcessing.com/articles/2006/159.html) to scavenge energy from vibrating equipment to avoid the need for a battery. This reportedly is the first commercial application of the technology.

The value of wireless technology for condition monitoring is obvious. After all, equipment sometimes is located in remote or hard-to-access areas. However, another use for wireless shown at the Expo wasn’t obvious to me — at least until I actually saw the device aimed at the application. That unit targets what may be an even more pervasive need, getting data from the millions of local dial gauges for temperature, pressure, flow, etc., at plants that operators or other staff currently need to read.

 Honeywell Process Solutions, Phoenix, and Cypress Envirosystems, San Jose, Calif., are teaming to offer easy-to-install units that read data from the gauges and wirelessly transmit the information to the distributed control system via Honeywell’s OneWireless network. In June, Cypress had introduced a version that works with its own receiver/server.

Installation of the Wireless Gauge Reader simply involves attaching it onto the front face of a gauge and then calibrating it, which only takes a few minutes. There’s no need to remove the gauge, break pressure seals, perform leak checks, run wires, or interrupt process operations, say the companies. Compared to alternatives such as wired or wireless transmitters, total cost per point runs about one-third or less, they add.
Cyber security of process control systems also is a hot topic (see www.ChemicalProcessing.com/articles/2008/127.html) and a noteworthy security product debuted at the show. Byres Security, Lantzville, B.C., and MTL Instruments, Luton, U.K., introduced a device for detailed analysis and filtering of all Modbus TCP messages. The Tofino Modbus TCP Enforcer Loadable Security Module is said to allow a plant to regulate Modbus traffic on a control or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system to a level of detail not previously possible — thereby improving network security, reliability and performance.

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