ISA Expo 2006-The Sensors Report, Part 3

E-mail Barbara Goode

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"We can no longer be just engineers, we must also be business managers," said Steve Muenstermann of Honeywell Process Solutions during a conversation at ISA Expo last week. His point: Wireless sensor networking enables so much opportunity that engineers need to step out of their traditional role to realize the broader potential of the technology for their businesses.

Standards Work
Muenstermann, who spends much of his time working directly with customers and knows their concerns, thinks that a lack of standards is not a hindrance to wireless sensor adoption. In fact, he points out, IT departments are often wary of standards—and Cisco, for example, pursues proprietary protocols as a hedge against vulnerability. "We're getting overprotective," he says, and points out that with RF you can see intruders in a system—whereas with wired technology you cannot.

Nonetheless, Dave Kaufman, business development director for wireless Honeywell Process Solutions, noted that he'd like to get to a standard as quickly as possible. And indeed, Honeywell is active in such standards development efforts as ISA SP100 and Wireless HART.

Speaking of Wireless HART, Dust Networks announced at the show that its Time Synchronized Mesh Protocol communications technology will be incorporated in new in-plant smart wireless field networks by process automation leader Emerson, which originated the HART platform. This is a huge win for Dust, which is positioning its technology to be the product of choice for other adoptees of Wireless HART.

Industrial Energy Harvesting
While Muenstermann guesses that 80% of wireless installations do not require off-the-grid power sources such as batteries, truly untethered sensors are the wave of the future. And so it was gratifying to see Perpetuum displaying its PMG17 vibration energy harvester, which promises to generate useful energy from from levels of vibration that are 35% lower than previously possible. In size, Perpetuum's device is somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball. The company makes provisions for continued operation during power outages (that is, when vibration ceases). Sensicast, too, had vibration energy harvesters (looking much like Perpetuum's) on display in its booth, thanks to a working relationship with Ferro Solutions. "Sensicast is excited about continuing to work with Ferro on powerful, joint energy solutions," says Patrick Rafter of Sensicast.

Interestingly, Ferro also makes hybrid sensors that combine piezoelectric and magnetic materials "to deliver sensitivity approaching that of SQUID magnetometers, but with much lower power consumption and in a much smaller package," the company notes.

And More
WINA, the Wireless Industrial Networking Alliance, has done another kind of energy harvesting recently, having agreed to operate under the umbrella of the ISA's Automation Federation. Fledged by the Department of Energy, the standards-agnostic WINA is a coalition of industrial end-user companies, technology suppliers, industry organizations, software developers, and others interested in the advancement of wireless technology in industry. Partnership with the ISA will afford the group greater resources.

Not all the news at ISA Expo concerned wireless networking. I'll conclude my report next week by telling you about that.

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