R&D Turns to Inferential Process Control

E-mail Wayne Manges

Gideon Varga, DOE's portfolio manager for the Sensors and Automation Cross-Cut in the Industrial Technologies Program, announced his new government-funded R&D program at the Sensors Expo in Chicago (Rosemont) on June 5, 2006. The standing-room-only crowd was very attentive and extremely global in nature. The interest in advanced (wireless) sensor networks now stretches around the globe, and Gideon's session, "Sensors to Revolutionize Manufacturing" prompted energetic discussion about what is coming from his DOE office in the future.

Inferential Process Control
The anticipated inferential process control solicitation is scheduled for 2007, along with a preproposal workshop designed to facilitate team building. The awards will follow in fiscal 2008, which starts in October 2007.

To refresh you memory, "inferential process control" is a technology that integrates sensors and information technology in a way that enables a real-time measurement of quality metrics that were formerly thought "unmeasureable." The classic examples given include the taste of a potato chip or the malleability of steel throughout a coil. As I mentioned in the April issue of Sensors' Wireless & M2M newsletter, a key researcher in this area is Babatunde Ogunnaike ([email protected]) from the University of Delaware.

Organizations interested in partnering to respond to this upcoming solicitation should begin their preproposal partnership discussions as soon as possible. The funding will be on the order of a few million dollars a year (matched by the industry team), over three or so years. The outcome should be a prototype for a new suite of sensors capable of optimizing energy consumption by reducing scrap, improving energy-intensive processes, or improving raw material utilization. I would assume that any successful proposal will include the use of wireless technology, developed under the current DOE program, including the implementation of systems based on the ISA SP100 standard for wireless industrial automation. For more information about Gideon's new program, go to the DOE Web site and check it out.

For More Information
By the way, you can download the presentations from the entire review session from the same Web site. Here you'll find the latest on industrial wireless sensors from Eaton, Honeywell, and GE, as well as information on hard-wired devices. A company called OG Technologies is developing a new sensor for assessing the surface quality of steel—at over 200 MPH. And the power harvesting information that KCF Technologies presented might be of interest because I received a lot of e-mail in response to the May issue of Sensors' Wireless & M2M newsletter, where I first mentioned the project. The presentation from another Honeywell group building a miniature, MEMS-based gas chromatograph might also be of interest. Timken posted an update on their project on flexible robotics.

Imminent Products
The three companies involved in the DOE wireless projects all announced imminent product launches. Eaton, Honeywell, and GE all committed to standards-based products for monitoring electric motor health in or around 2008. Eaton announced some preliminary products, based on their DOE-project research, for the more benign environments found in the home. Watch for Home Heartbeat coming to a Home Depot near you.