Wireless: Handhelds Hold Sway

Staff in the field increasingly rely on wireless handheld devices.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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How do the process industries view wireless technologies? A newly published report, "The State of Industrial Wireless," from application provider Apprion, Mountain View, Calif., provides a perspective gleaned from eight surveys the company conducted over the past year.

The report notes:
• Sixty-four percent of facilities surveyed have at least one wireless application installed;
• from April 2009 to April 2010 wireless adoption increased 23% and sites currently considering wireless applications grew by 85%;
• condition monitoring/asset management applications lead wireless adoption in 2009 with an increase of 56%;
• video, communications and mobility are the applications driving the next wave of adoption;
• workforce productivity and compliance with safety and security are key drivers for adoption; and
• cost/budget constraints represent the number one barrier to implementing wireless applications.
The report reckons that as the economic climate improves so, too, will wireless adoption.

More facilities now are tying together mobility and real-time data, notes Warren Smith, Apprion's new vice president of products. "Visionaries like Huntsman Chemical and Chevron are realizing the value of moving to a wireless infrastructure and the importance of getting real-time data to mobile workers — something you cannot do with fixed devices and wires. It's about getting the right information in people's hands quickly and in real-time. Real-time data and wireless mobility greatly enhances facilities' safety and security," he says.

Project Zero
Huntsman began an initiative — dubbed Project Zero — at its Port Neches, Texas, site in mid-2008. This required a completely mobile solution to empower operations and maintenance personnel to capture defects, track work progress and make process- and safety-related decisions in real-time. The company partnered with Apprion, software maker Industrial Mobility, The Woodlands, Texas, and Motorola, Schaumburg, Ill.

As part of the initiative, the site installed 91 IONizer multi-radio multi-protocol access points from Apprion to allow gathering critical data anywhere and at any time. With future developments in mind, the network also was enabled with VoIP capabilities and made scalable.

Huntsman used RFID technology to identify individual equipment in the field. A passive RFID tag enables a field worker to locate each piece of equipment in the database as well as all documentation about it simply by using the Motorola MC9090 handheld to scan the RFID tag.

The system went live in May 2009. It now covers more than 70% of the plant, with 100% coverage expected by the end of this summer.

It has increased the number of defects captured and reduced redundant efforts. For example, operations staff have identified those pieces of equipment that fail more frequently than others — these now are prioritized and get more frequent checks, while those found to be more reliable get fewer checks.

The next step in the program includes a Six Sigma study together with expansion to other plants and plans for deployment of additional wireless applications.

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