Wireless: Handhelds Hold Sway

Staff in the field increasingly rely on wireless handheld devices.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Meanwhile, BASF, Ludwigshafen, Germany, began a project to expand mobile maintenance solutions in its production plants at the start of this year, notes Christiane Cloos of its Communications Engineering & Maintenance department. "Up to now the market is mainly dominated by single solutions, but there are only few standardized and certifiable offers with optimized and flexible gateways to SAP. Furthermore, very few handhelds are available for explosion-hazard areas. As a result, we will develop a plan for our specific requirements in the coming months. Realization is planned for 2011."

Tough Tablet
Emerson Process Management, Austin, Texas, also is pushing ahead with wireless developments. The company currently is working with Panasonic, Secaucus, N.J.

Essentially Panasonic has leveraged the Intel Atom processor platform to create the Toughbook U1, a rugged hazardous-area-rated tablet PC, that's powerful enough to run the DeltaV digital automation system and other applications, including DeltaV Remote Operator Station, Ovation Expert Control System and Syncade Operations Management (Figure 1). "All you need is a wireless connection. Most of our customers are trying the U1 out; we have installed a number of hotspots on their sites and they are evaluating how well they work," explains Neil Peterson, marketing manager for Wireless Services.

One unnamed customer is doing an extensive review at a trial site to test everything before making recommendations about using U1 company-wide. "And it's not just Emerson's technology either — a lot of other company's solutions are being trialed too. But absolutely everything comes into the review, for example, video security, mobile worker security — and all the different permutations that might affect site security," he notes.

Concerns about security aren't derailing wireless adoption, he says. "Today we are very secure and, at Emerson, we promote 'defense in depth.' Even so, everyone is taking their time and being appropriately cautious. Fewer concerns surround the Global Wireless IEC approved 62591standard (WirelessHART) as it has been vetted by independent testing facilities (NAMUR) and there are only devices — not people — communicating on the network." [For more on WirelessHART, see "Make the Most of WirelessHART."]

The latest version (v10) of DeltaV has been modified so that the Delta Operate application fits on the U1 screen. "This is a small — 1,000 × 600 pixels — a small amount of real estate on which to display a lot of information. However, it is four times the size of a PDA display. This is very different from a control room where an operator may have a large 20-in. monitor to display a big picture view of the operation," explains Peterson. "We can take that screen and quickly break it into four separate screens for the handheld. This allows the same operator to get up from his desk, pick up the U1, and 'pan and scan' through the larger view on the handheld while walking around."

Peterson believes a turning point is coming for mobile workers. "This could come from Wireless N, the next generation in wireless technology. This has up to 12 times the speed and nearly twice the range of the preceding Wireless G standard. Signal reflectivity (MIMO) is a big boon with this technology, too — something that we can definitely take advantage of, bearing in mind all the metal that is present in process plants. All we need now is for Wi-Fi network providers to release equipment rated for use in hazardous zones."

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