Many food processors are turning to wireless automation to improve the efficiency and interoperability of the plant’s control systems. This method of automation architecture offers significant cost savings in engineering and installation, while providing more flexible access to data for monitoring and analysis.
The first step in selecting a wireless technology is to ensure that it can easily integrate into your existing network, including any wired components. It’s also important to evaluate the site and develop an installation plan, addressing issues including radio frequency (RF) interference, physical and network security, and location of power for wireless routers. As with control panels, engineers should also evaluate the environmental conditions where the equipment will be installed such as temperature, humidity, condensation, weather, and wash downs.
Benefits of wireless automation
- Interoperability — Wireless technology integrates control and monitoring capabilities among a variety of building automation devices regardless of the manufacturer.
- Reduced cost — Eliminating the expense of cables and wires, a wireless network can result in a 90% savings over that of a wired network. In addition, wireless technology is flexible and scalable, allowing points in the network to be integrated incrementally to accommodate future plant growth.
- Ease of installation — Installation is much more efficient and less disruptive to operations as there are no wires or cables to be routed through walls and flooring.
- Increased reliability — Removing hard wire from the network eliminates the potential for cuts or physical damage that may result in communication failures. Wireless architectures can use “mesh” technology that provides redundant paths of communication.
- Operational efficiencies — Wireless technology allows engineers to more effectively diagnose and troubleshoot equipment issues in real-time, in addition to performing predictive maintenance.
Potential barriers to making the switch
Security concerns are typically the primary roadblock in a facility’s decision to deploy a wireless automation network. ISA100.11a, a wireless networking technology standard developed by the International Society of Automation (ISA), offers many built-in security features including encryption, authentication, integrity and key management. Your network administrator is responsible for the security of your wireless network, maintaining all keys and access parameters. This data should be safeguarded and changed periodically to protect the network.
Reliability of a wireless network is also of great concern among plant engineers. The ISA-100.11a standard employs numerous techniques to increase reliability including redundancy, intelligent channel hopping, and time synchronization. Data can be spread across multiple channels and then reassembled at the point of the receiver to avoid channel congestion and to improve security. Measures such as channel blacklisting and adaptive hopping should also be taken to reduce any electronic and electrical noise within the plant that may interfere or cause disturbances in the spectrum.
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