The Integration Imperative for Wireless

As I walked through the exhibit hall at the International Forum on Process Analytical Chemistry (IFPAC), I felt as though I was judging a science fair. The technology was impressive and clearly indicated an irrefutable level of engineering sophistication. I found it difficult, though, to imagine these devices in a refinery. For good reason, it turns out.

Keynote speaker Bill Floyd of Exxon-Mobil reported his experience dealing with installation costs that far outweigh equipment costs. He also told horror stories of needing to develop separate user interfaces for instruments whose own software failed to integrate with any known industrial network. Floyd challenged instrumentation suppliers to recognize the importance of enabling their products to integrate with larger systems, and lamented their total cost of ownership.

Make it Painless, Please
All this reminded me of a conversation I once had with Clinton Carter, project leader for the wireless sensor networking installation at the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant. When I asked Clint why he chose 802.11b for his wireless sensor network he unflinchingly said, "It's the only one that's SAP compatible."

I continue to remind wireless sensor network advocates of the importance of vertical integration. If the sensor data stay on the shop floor, its benefit won't be visible to the decision makers-so market penetration will be a continuing battle.

More on IFPAC, SP100, Etc.
Read more about what happened at IFPAC in my March recap of activity in the realm of wireless sensor networking.

There and in the February report I also discuss the goals and status of the ISA-SP100 Wireless Systems for Automation committee, which continues to surprise me in terms of cooperation and progress as well as broad interest.

Stay Informed
If you'd like to keep in tune with the important goings-on in wireless sensing, sign on for a free subscription to the monthly newsletter I host. The landscape of industrial wireless sensors and networks changes so quickly; the newsletter provides a good outlet for me to inform you of the goings-on, from early rumbles to earth-shaking events. I'll keep you informed-and hope also to inspire you to try something you might not otherwise.

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