Plant of the Future: Whither Wireless?

Futuristic plants aren’t far off and herald even more dramatic changes.

By Jeff Becker, Honeywell Process Solutions

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Predictions made only a few years ago about the “wireless plant of the future” already are outdated. The rapid evolution and adoption of wireless technology by the process industries mean it’s very realistic to expect such plants to emerge within the next five years.

These plants won’t be limited to greenfield sites. Indeed, wireless will play a crucial role in optimizing operations at brownfield plants.

So what exactly will these “futuristic” wireless-enabled plants actually look like? How much will they really differ from the current plant environment? Let’s view this through the eyes of key people at the plant.

The Reliability Technician
In a way the reliability technician already lives in a wireless world — just not in the good sense. Very few pieces of equipment that must be monitored have wired instrumentation because the cost of wiring back to the control room is prohibitively expensive. As a result, the typical plant installs wired protection systems only for high-value assets such as large turbines, which generally represent less than 10% of rotating equipment.

So today’s reliability technician must make daily rounds to check the performance of the bulk of the assets — spending a lot of time taking measurements such as pump vibration readings and then manually entering results into databases, and not nearly as much time actually conducting analyses and proposing solutions that improve asset reliability. In addition, because monitoring is so time-consuming, some assets get checked infrequently, often only once a month.

In the wireless plant of the future, rounds will become less frequent because wireless instrumentation will capture and immediately send relevant data back to the control system — no manual entry needed. It will be possible to get high-quality data several times a day from assets.

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