ISA Expo 2006-The Sensors Report, Part 1

E-mail Barbara Goode

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Much of the buzz at last week's ISA Expo centered—as it did at Sensors Expo in June—on wireless networking. The event showcased intrigue concerning wireless sensor networking standards, plus product and strategy announcements from major vendors, startups, and others in between.

On the standards side, the HART Communication Foundation (HCF) was busy promoting Wireless HART, while the ISA's SP100 wireless industrial automation standard committee held a major meeting at the event. In case you're wondering about ZigBee, the Alliance did have a booth to promote the enhanced version of its standard, due out in Q1 2007, but it seems that ZigBee has all but ceded its presence in the industrial market to these other initiatives and has focused on building automation instead.

On the supplier side, Banner Engineering and National Instruments made their first substantive announcements in the wireless realm there in Houston, while many others also reported news on wireless sensor developments. And a few developers had sensor news unrelated to wireless.

The HART of the Matter
"ABB sees wireless as one of the core technologies that will help our customers improve their operation and lower their costs," says Pat Cashwell, ABB's VP, Field Instrumentation. At an HCF press conference, ABB joined representatives from Endress + Hauser, Emerson, Honeywell, and Siemens to promote the positive impact a wireless standard will have on the process industries, and pledge support for the development of Wireless HART. According to HCF, the Wireless HART standard will allow a wireless device to be integrated into the same host system as its wired counterparts. And, says Joy Weiss, CEO of DUST Networks, it will be amazingly easy to wirelessly enable a legacy (wired) HART device. HCF plans to produce a spec in Q1 2007 and to ratify in Q2.

This news is significant because the HART standard has a major market share in the process industries (reportedly as high as 90%), with more than 20 million devices installed. According to HCF director Ron Helson, "only 10% [of those] are delivering their full diagnostic potential." Helson says that Wireless HART, along with HART's new DLL capabilities, will open the door to untapped functions in HART—as well as simplify integration of devices from multiple vendors.

Not everyone feels that Wireless HART is important; one industry observer I spoke with sees the standard as more of a marketing ploy than a truly valuable development. But all the movers and shakers with whom I discussed it say that Wireless HART will complement SP100—and that is a very good thing.

P.S., It's SP100
The committee working on ISA SP100 held a multi-day meeting at ISA Expo. In a press conference, the group explained its raison d'être, which, in a few words, is to address the particular challenges of industrial wireless applications in a unified manner.

While early on SP100 was said to be a committee organized to set parameters for the development of wireless networking standards—and would not necessarily develop a standard itself—the group has moved steadily toward standards creation. A timeline makes this clear: It shows the SP100 standard will be released in Q2 2008, with products based on that standard becoming available by Q4 2008. Meanwhile, the spec will be written beginning in Q1 2007, and submitted to the ISA by Q3 2007 through Q2 2008.

I've been impressed by the momentum I've seen with this group, whose membership now numbers approximately 300 individuals. Its subcommittees share chairmanship between end user and vendor representatives—but it is always seeking more representation from the end user side of the industry to make certain it is well grounded.

More Later
I've got further news to share but if I write much more, today's issue of Sensors Today will not be the "five-minute read" it's meant to be. So I'll be back later with more observations from ISA Expo.

Meantime, please join the discussion on Wireless HART, SP100, and ZigBee by entering a comment below. Scroll all the way down to see the "Post A Comment" section and let us know what you'd like to see concerning standards development, wireless, and the contest among protocols.

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