Wireless Applications Put to the Test

Author : Jeff Becker, director of Global Wireless Business, Honeywell Process Solutions

08 May 2010

Three industrial plants share their experiences with industrial wireless. In all three cases — including alcohol storage tanks, oil and gas pipelines, and a hot furnace in a steel factory — wireless helped them solve perplexing problems that probably would not have been solved otherwise.

An employee at ALON USA uses a Honeywell mobile tablet to manage field assets.
An employee at ALON USA uses a Honeywell mobile tablet to manage field assets.

The period we are living in today reminds us of the 1970s, with the announcements surrounding the distributed control system. Today, wireless is the new hot topic in the process control industry.

Many companies are turning to wireless systems to help them save money by eliminating wiring costs. What’s better, wireless devices are gaining recognition for improving operations in areas like critical, life-safety reporting needs; chemical spills and overflow; employee accident reporting; and coded alarm signalling.

While plant managers are flooded with information on wireless and the latest advancements of the technology, real plant examples are always helpful in understanding the value wireless offers to increasing safety, reliability and efficiency in industrial plants.

1. Wireless for improved safety
CSL Behring, employing more than 6,000 people in 18 countries, is a global leader in the plasma protein biotherapeutics industry dedicated to treating rare and serious diseases. Behring’s line of therapies include products for the treatment of hemophilia and other coagulation disorders, immunoglobulins for the prevention and treatment of immune disorders, treatments that inhibit the formation of blood clots, wound-healing agents used during major surgical procedures, and plasma expanders for the treatment of conditions such as shock, burns and circulatory disorders.

CSL’s alcohol tanks sit outside rather than in an enclosed area. This requires employees to walk up narrow stairways to the tops of the 50-year-old, 38,000-litre storage tanks, which stand about five metres high. ‘We have employees walking out to these tanks in the rain and snow and whatever else,’ said Jeff Dabney, senior process engineer at CSL Behring’s Kankakee, Ill. USA facility.

The intense alcohol concentration in the tanks presented potential explosion and safety risks for employees who would manually check the alcohol levels. Searching for a way to better monitor its alcohol tank levels and reduce safety risks, CSL decided to eliminate one of the cycle’s most routine tasks—manual alcohol tank monitoring.

‘We had a big challenge finding a level measuring system to run into our hazardous area that did not involve thousands of dollars in intrinsic barriers alone,’ Mr. Dabney said. Since the application was outside, crossing several roads, digging a trench was out of the question. Additionally, large trucks are used.

‘So this would mean a large expense in putting up an overhead conduit system. The costs of wiring prevented us from doing the project for a long time,’ he said.

CSL turned to a wireless solution that allowed monitoring the tanks on a real-time basis without exposing the operator to the risks of manual measurement. Honeywell installed wireless transmitters that enabled CSL to automate monitoring in the areas where hard-wired transmitters are too costly, difficult or time-consuming to implement.

The wireless base at CSL now sits about 300 metres away from the storage tanks next to a cooling tower on the facility campus. Pressure transmitters sensing the weight of the alcohol in the tanks send the data to the wireless base, which then transmits the numbers to a programmable logic controller.

Employees can view the data any time on a computer screen versus manually checking levels. Also, the wireless transmitters enable the company to emit even less alcoholic vapours into the air because workers no longer have to physically open the tanks to take measurements.

By implementing wireless transmitters, CSL is meeting compliance regulations more efficiently, and increasing data access and availability for improved decision making. Additionally, employee safety is improved by eliminating manual monitoring.

2. Wireless pipeline monitoring
Repsol YPF is an integrated global oil and gas company, operating in more than 28 countries. It is the industry leader in Spain and Argentina, and the largest private energy company in Latin America in terms of assets. A multinational energy and chemical company producing more than 1.2 million barrels per day, Repsol maintains a firm belief in technological innovation accompanied by the development of environmentally friendly technology.

In 2004, an underwater pipeline crossing the Colorado River was completed in the Puesto Molina production area in Argentina. One oil pipeline, two gas pipelines and an aqueduct, 936 kilometres long, were installed under the river. Security and environmental standards required that Repsol maintain accurate monitoring of the pipelines to avoid possible spills into the river in the event of a pipe breakage.

Repsol considered using pressure transmitters to sense pressure on the pipelines, but the costs of mounting and maintenance were prohibitive. Wireless transmitter technology offered significant advantages when used for measurement and monitoring of applications. Additionally, the wireless solution was designed for applications with little to no access to power, hazardous or remote locations where instrumentation changes are frequent or where manual readings are usually taken.

 ‘Honeywell’s wireless pressure measurement solutions helped remove the barriers to installation and startup costs but still provided a reliable, secure and safe monitoring system,’ said Sergio Iurchuk, Project Engineer, Repsol YPF.

Continuous monitoring of pipeline pressure and integration into a SCADA reporting system were implemented as part of the control system in place. Once a wireless solution was selected, various options were analysed to do the pressure monitoring on the pipelines. After the completion of the engineering design concepts, the wireless implementation was chosen.

By using wireless pressure transmitters to maintain accurate monitoring of pipelines crossing the river, the company realised several benefits including:
* Overall cost savings of more than 37 per cent by using wireless technology over traditional technology;
* Cost reduction in development, installation, engineering, mounting and startup;
* Increased data and measurement reliability with the elimination of data transmission faults;
* 50 per cent reduction in maintenance costs due to high reliability, stability and auto-diagnose capabilities; and
* Removal of barriers to monitoring variables where traditional technology too costly to implement.

3. Wireless yields production efficiency
Nucor Corp. is the largest steel producer in the United States and the nation's largest recycler. Nucor’s products include carbon and alloy steel in bars, beams, sheet and plate, steel joists and joist girders, steel deck, cold finished steel, steel fasteners, metal building systems, and light gauge steel framing.

Nucor’s Tuscaloosa, Ala. USA, steel mill, a hot-rolled coil and cut-to-length plate mill that manufactures carbon and high-strength low alloy steels for structural and pressure vessel applications, was faced with the challenge of improving process operations on one of its furnaces used to melt and recycle steel. To help support an increase in production levels, operations staff searched for a reliable way to monitor temperatures around the furnace in areas not previously monitored. The ability to gather this data would facilitate a furnace upgrade and subsequent increase in production.

A key requirement was the ability to instantaneously track temperatures inside the furnace – which can reach more than 538°C—to protect from a production upset if temperatures exceeded certain limits. Another concern was the huge magnetic field, a result of running over 120,000 amps to the furnace, and its impact on transmitter functionality.

The Nucor mill turned to wireless to help overcome the challenge of obtaining accurate and reliable temperature readings on its furnace. The use of wireless technology was seen as the better way to get these readings given the extreme environment. The solution included the placement of wireless transmitters just a few feet from the base of furnace flames. The transmitters were installed on the cooling circuits for the furnace and encased in specially built protective boxes to withstand the extreme heat.

‘With the use of wireless transmitters, we were able to start monitoring a part of the mill that was previously not possible, which has allowed us to completely upgrade the furnace and increase production,’ said the Melt Shop Electrical Supervisor.

Due to the wireless installation, Nucor increased production by 15 per cent through furnace upgrade, improved production efficiency through more accurate and qualitative data, and reduced maintenance requirements compared to the wired transmitter alternative. Additionally, as a result of the positive experience with the project, Nucor decided to pursue the installation of wireless devices throughout the mill.

Phase two of the project consisted of implementing the OneWireless universal mesh network and additional wireless transmitters. The network supports both the new and old transmitters, as well as additional applications. The mesh network also covers Nucor’s entire furnace area of the mill and supports both automation and enterprise applications.

Nucor is now using the wireless network for wireless measurements, as well as the mobile human-machine interface (HMI). Employees can use mobile computers that carry the plant’s operator HMI anywhere in the melting operation. This allows for increased efficiency during maintenance operations and reduces interruptions in of control room operators to support maintenance teams.

‘We believe the potential for wireless technology at our mill is huge’, said the Nucor supervisor. ‘With wireless technology, we’re able to focus efforts on more efficient means of collecting the data we need from the field.’

With the support of a wireless solution, Nucor has been able to increase production performance and lay the groundwork for future advancements in production efficiency. For example, Nucor is testing the Honeywell Instant Location System to track when vehicles carrying molten slag enter area normally occupied by plant employees. The goal is to improve operational efficiency and safety by utilising the wireless network for various applications.

A strategic decision
Wireless technology is becoming more than just a convenience; it has become a business tool that offers savings beyond maintenance and installation costs. Additionally, it has helped lessen the financial blow of lost production and cleanup and helps ensure workers’ safety. Many companies are finding that wireless is an effective method for staying environmentally friendly and compliant.

How widespread the use of wireless devices becomes in the process control industry will be determined by companies’ willingness to view the technology not as tactical, but strategic.

Author: Jeff Becker, director of Global Wireless Business, Honeywell Process Solutions

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