Wireless offers flexibility for life

25 June 2012

Suzanne Gill looks at the benefits that are being reported by industrial wireless networks, both during the project implementation stage and throughout the life of a plant.

Ali Erener, project chief engineer, and Ílker Karadag, operation chief of oil movement together with the antenna unit. The Smart Wireless THUM Adapter transfers tank data via the wireless mesh network to the Smart Wireless Gateway.
Ali Erener, project chief engineer, and Ílker Karadag, operation chief of oil movement together with the antenna unit. The Smart Wireless THUM Adapter transfers tank data via the wireless mesh network to the Smart Wireless Gateway.

The Tüpras refinery in Turkey is a recent convert to wireless, having recently specified a Emerson Process Management tank gauging system that includes 85 wireless TankRadar Rex radar level gauges. The gauging system provides level measurements on some of the refinery’s most critical oil-movement tanks.

The facility has a refining capacity of 11 million tons/year and storage capacity of 1.9 million cubic metres in 164 tanks. The existing gauging systems on a number of the tanks were encountering communication problems and were giving incorrect readings because of damage to cables during excavations in the field. In addition, support personnel were not always available when needed.

The company initially considered replacing the trouble-prone systems with other wired level gauges. However, because the tanks are spread over a large area and existing cabling and junction boxes were not up to standard, the high cabling and installation costs of this approach made wireless technology more appealing.

“Ground conditions make excavation for new cable runs difficult, but with the Smart Wireless solution we can minimise costs for cabling, cable trenches, conduits, and cable trays,” said Ali Erener, project chief engineer at the plant. “Going wireless also gives us the flexibility to add more devices in the future – not only for level and temperature measurements, but also for tank water control and nitrogen pressure control at our blanketing tanks, which are far from the control room.”

The WirelessHART field network at the refinery will have a node for each tank, including a level gauge installed with an antenna unit, a Smart Wireless THUM adapter, and a multiple spot temperature sensor will enable accurate volume calculations.

Temperature and level data will be sent wirelessly to a Smart Wireless gateway, which serves as the network manager and provides an interface to the refinery’s inventory software or control system.

Wireless = flexibility
“The biggest advantage of wireless technology, in addition to reduced deployment costs at implementation, is the flexibility it can provide, throughout the whole plant lifecycle,” said Ann Robin, sales and marketing for Emerson's Smart Wireless technology in Europe.

Robin went on to explain these benefits in more detail: ”The benefits start at project implementation, because wireless technology can make the impact of project changes much lower. Projects today have ever tighter schedules which can result in more changes being implemented during project execution. The impact of these changes can be dramatic, in terms of both timing and cost. Using wireless technologies will lower the impact of these changes resulting in an average reduction in time of arounf 25%.” This initial flexibility continues throughout the lifecycle of a plant. Robin continues: “We have customers who implement a wireless networking backbone throughout the whole plant to ensure that it is covered so that, when needed, they can add more devices without incurring the costs associated with starting a new project to add further measurements.”

Wireless technology also allows measurements to be added more easily, even on a temporary basis, maybe to validate some new assumptions or to measure the effects of a new approach. It is important to remember that putting a wired measurement in place is not just about wiring in a sensor. You need to consider the junction box, marshalling panel and of course, it will use up valuable I/O, which can add up to a very costly measurement. “Any of these can be a bottleneck when a project scope changes in a wired world, even if the original design allowed a margin for additional requirements. Changes can quickly use up capacity that was designed-in, which then causes problems. In a wireless project, expansions could only require you to add a gateway, which would be much less of a headache,” said Robin.

Industry is also constantly subject to new legislative requirements and these could require the addition of new reporting capabilities. It is a great benefit to be able to add these measurements in a timely and cost-efficient manner.

Discussing the increasing interest in wireless among Emerson customers, Robin said: ”Just a few years ago customers would install wireless devices in niche applications. Today, we are seeing greater acceptance, with wireless networks being run throughout entire plants for a variety of different reasons. We are currently seeing wireless sales double year on year.”

Mobility benefits
Meanwhile, Diederik Mols, business manager industrial wireless solutions for Honeywell Process Solutions, believes that the greatest advantage of wireless networks, in addition to the initial implementation benefits, is one of mobility.

“Mobility is an essential part of everybody’s lives today. It makes us more efficient, effective and better informed. Which are, of course, vital requirements for the industrial sector too,” he said.

“If you are able to leverage wireless technology to make operators better informed, via mobile computing devices, this will impact your operation on an ongoing basis.”
One petrochemical giant, for example devised and deployed a mobile solution at 25 of its sites which helped it to cut back on process safety incidents by between 50 and 70%. This was achieved by introducing standardised operator rounds and real-time notification of any abnormalities, making problems instantly visible on multiple screens, enabling them to be addressed more rapidly.

“The real benefit of wireless is not the fact that it is a transmitter without a wire, but that it allows mobile computing devices to do smart things with the people working on the site,” enthused Mols. “There is value to be gained from using mobile devices intelligently with the enabled solutions behind them.” Standardised operator rounds and real-time access to information allows the enterprise to leverage expertise from more experienced people, wherever they may be in the world, and to provide this expert information to all operators on the plant floor.

“It can also help companies to reduce unplanned downtime, allowing plants to operate closer to their maximum yields,” said Mols. “By employing mobile operations it is also possible to make better use of operators, who are often confined to a control room, doing nothing useful for around 90% of the time. A wireless network, used with mobile devices, can free the operator from the control room, making them more productive and making their job more interesting.”

For many, though, the initial implementation costs and time-savings are still the biggest factor for choosing a wireless network solution. Shire Plc, for example, a speciality biopharmaceutical company, needed to act quickly to build a new plant, have received FDA-approval for a new pharmaceutical product.

“We looked for ways to economise our facility and maintain the rapid product schedules necessary to get these products out the door,” said Lloyd Vallance, senior process control engineer II, at Shire. “Several alternatives came to mind, but we discovered wireless stations would save money and help increase our economies of scale.”

Shire selected Honeywell for the technical capabilities of its control systems and its OneWireless Network, to optimise plant productivity and reliability, and to get the manufacturing operation up and running quickly. OneWireless is a rugged, industrial- grade network composed of industrial wireless access points that self-discover to create a redundant, self-healing mesh network. The wireless network supports Wi-Fi devices and industrial I/O devices simultaneously.

Longer term benefits
Initially, Shire selected wireless stations because they were a much lower cost alternative to the more traditional hardened washdown enclosures. However, the wireless stations also offered longer-term benefits, allowing the company to reduce the number stations required for ongoing plant operation.

A manufacturing area containing eight operating units overseen by two operators would typically include a hardened station at each piece of equipment, which would result in eight large stations. Using wireless technology, Shire reduced this to just two stations – saving computer and enclosure costs, software licensing fees, and the annual operating expenses for a business computer.

The wireless portion of the project included 23 wireless stations and a OneWireless Network mesh. Key to the project’s success was the ability to ramp up and change directions quickly. “Due to the intense scheduling pressures to respond to new market opportunities, we relied on Honeywell to pool resources. They were willing to do whatever it took to succeed. Our project was up and running on time, and OneWireless has proven to be a highly reliable system,” said Vallance. “The system also offers flexible and scalability to adapt to our changing needs.”

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