Just after I wrote that ZigBee seems to have ceded its place in the industrial arena to other standards still in development, I picked up a news release that I'd collected at Cirronet's ISA Expo booth. The release discussed something I'd found particularly intriguing—an industrial application that is built on, uh..."industrial ZigBee." And I realized that I need to make a clarification.
Vendors Support ZigBee
While some say that ZigBee has not kept pace with the needs of industrial wireless development, it is still the only sensor-focused wireless networking standard to be ratified—and Cirronet is smart to support it. The application, an end-to-end condition-based operations (CBO) platform, is, however, also available under Cirronet's proprietary protocol, VersaMesh.
Those paying close attention might remember that the VersaMesh protocol originally belonged to RF Monolithics. The CBO platform is a product of RFM's recent purchase of both Cirronet and Aleier Inc. It involves wireless sensor networks connected to Aleier's FM1j interprise EAM (enterprise asset management) application.
Aleier states that its open architecture allows for efficient integration with all types of wireless—and wired—sensor networks. But what intrigues me most is that, according to Wayne Stargardt of Aleier, his company's software is the only one to pipe in sensor data in real time. Other such sensor-aware software—from Oracle and other vendors—accepts only logged data, he says. That's an important distinction.
At Your Service
Sensicast, another interesting provider of wireless sensor networking products, announced at the show its SensiNET Services: Hosted applications for industrial and commercial enterprises. This follows a trend in the larger computing realm; the new offering allows temperature and energy monitoring over the Internet, and relieves customers from having to host the applications themselves. It is part of Sensicast's "Zero-IT footprint" approach that bypasses firewall issues while promising security. SensiNET Services also promises plug-and-play deployment and interoperation with popular industrial and commercial automation software from Citect, Iconics, Invensys (Wonderware), NK Technologies, and...
How LabVIEW Supports Wireless
...National Instruments. That's why Sensicast was one of the stops on NI LabVIEW Wireless Sensor Network Tour. The tour also stopped at Phoenix Contact, which provides wireless modems and networking equipment supported by NI's ethernet-based PAC platforms; Oceana Sensor, which recently released wireless sensors with LabVIEW support; and companies for which NI has written new LabVIEW drivers. NI has long been signaling its interest in wireless sensor networking and made its first big splash in that pool when it announced free driver software that lets engineers fully integrate their ZigBee, IEEE 802.15.4 and proprietary wireless sensors with LabVIEW, its graphical development environment. Making the announcement at ISA Expo was a good choice, as the process industries have been the first to embrace wireless sensor networking in numbers.
The driver software works with sensors from Accsense, Accutech, and Crossbow to start. But NI is hoping to replicate the success it has realized with other driver initiatives, which is why the software includes "a fully documented template to quickly build a LabVIEW interface for wireless sensors not natively supported by the driver software." You can download the initial batch--and keep up on driver development—at www.ni.com/wsn.
The Not-Quite-Yet Announcement
Finally, Banner Engineering hosted its first ever booth at ISA Expo to make a major announcement—ever so quietly. Banner has a thing (thank goodness) about being fully ready to answer questions and support its sales infrastructure. And the work necessary for that support isn't done quite yet. So I'll say no more, but will point you to this brochure. Then I'll come back later and tell you why it excites me.
There's more news to tell from ISA Expo, too. Please stay tuned!