Standardizing the Industrial Wireless World

Adoption wireless in industrial applications has been much slower than the adoption curve for enterprise markets.

This gap is primarily due to 3 main factors. 

Lack of a reigning standard: There is a standards war between WirelessHART and ISA100 camps.  Even though there is a convergence effort between these standards underway, there are several OEMs and end-users that are adopting a wait and watch approach.  Some companies have launched WirelessHART based products.

Effective convergence of these two standards can speed up wireless adoption for industrial applications. Convergence or no-convergence greatly hinges on to the end users on the plant floor.  If end users fail to insist on convergence of the wireless protocol it will relegate the adoption of wireless devices on the plant floor to limited areas where it is already being applied.

Cost of deploying wireless sensor networks :  WirelessHART adapters cost anywhere from $750 – over $1000.  This is largely due to high development and certification cost for Class 1 Div 1 explosion proof deployment.

Manageability of various industrial wireless networks :  These challenges are particularly severe within a heterogeneous multi-vendor and multi-protocol environment.  The scale of deployment of industrial wireless sensor networks, i.e. size and number of deployments, will thus be limited by the configurability, maintainability, reliability, and security of installations.

The ability for end users to visualize, monitor, troubleshoot and secure their industrial wireless networks with ease  can create confidence for larger deployment of industrial wireless.

Regardless of which standard wins or if convergence does not entirely take place resulting in multiple wireless technologies, manageability of these heterogeneous networks will be key in creating the adoption rate that is predicted by the industry majors.  ARC recently mentioned SoftDEL’s Aerodel Director network management system as a technology that can bridge this gap.

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Rockwell Automation Fair 2010

The 2010 Automation Fair in Orlando, FL was certainly large-scale and well attended by any Automation show standard.   Various Rockwell Automation ecosystem partner companies displayed new products to customers and other partners.  For many OEMs, this is the biggest showcase event for the year.   For SoftDEL, it presented a good opportunity to reconnect with Rockwell members and to get a general feel of upcoming OEM products and trends based on wired and wireless I/O technologies.  Kudos to the Rockwell Automation team for a well organized, well attended show with good showcases from partner companies.

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SoftDEL’s Aerodel Director awarded “Best of Wireless Sensor Network & RFID” from IDTechEX

Aerodel Director – The industry’s first industrial wireless network management system has been awarded the “Best of Wireless Sensor Network & RFID 2010” at the IDTechEx Wireless Sensor Networks, Energy Harvesting & RFID conference in Hong Kong.

“We are excited & honored that IDTechEx has selected Aerodel Director as the Best of WSN/RFID for 2010. Aerodel Director will allow plant control engineers to visualize, monitor, troubleshoot, and secure their wireless sensor network deployments with ease thus increasing confidence in industrial wireless network deployments.” said Chirag Nanavati, Chief Marketing Officer – SoftDEL Systems.

Wireless sensor networking for industrial automation applications is being driven by multiple standards such as Wireless Ethernet based on 802.11, WirelessHART based on 802.15.4, ISA100.11a and proprietary short range and long range technologies.  Different technologies are suited depending on end use applications for industrial wireless, thus resulting in a multi-technology and multi-vendor environment in plants.  Aerodel Director provides a unified and consistent visualization for the plant control engineer to monitor, troubleshoot, and secure wireless sensor network deployments with ease thus increasing confidence in industrial wireless network deployments.

Read More: IDTechEx 2010 

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IEC 61850 and Smart Grid interoperability

IEC 61850 facilitates substation automation and communication as well as interoperability through a common data format.  The standard is one of several being recommended by NIST as essential to uniform and interoperable communication systems throughout the electricity grid.  It enables interoperability between new devices, technologies and is the common interface as the grid evolves.

SoftDEL has recently seen several of its global automation OEM customers developing products targeted toward transmission & distribution as well as sensor OEMs integrate and ask to integrate IEC61850 interfaces into their product lines.

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Importance of visualizing your wireless sensor network

Wireless brings with it a set of its own challenges, primarily linked to network management and security.  These challenges are exaggerated in a multi-vendor, multi-technology hetereogenous environment.  Industrial wireless deployments are heading to be multi-vendor, multi-technology for the long run as a mix of WirelessHART, 802.11 and properietary technologies vie for different application spaces in process and factory automation installations.

To effectively be able to monitor and troubleshoot industrial wireless deployments in a plant, a powerful visualization engine is extremely important tool.  SoftDEL’s Aerodel Director Industrial Wireless Network Management System provides plant managers with the efficient visualization engine to identify and isolate wireless network aberrations so that they can be quickly dealt with.

Read more about Aerodel Director on :

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Power, Performance and Platform Independence, 3 P’s of OPC

OPC Unified Architecture (UA) is the next generation OPC standard providing a cohesive, secure and reliable cross platform framework for access to real time and historical data and events. With OPC (UA), standard industrial applications developers will have the freedom to choose a development platform.

Powerful new features, Methods and Programs
Existing OPC COM specifications give more attention to data or events. However many applications reply on complex tasks that cannot be reduced to a single data value or event. Using OPC UA methods, servers can permit clients to invoke complex functions with a set of parameters. These functions can be used to control a background process which raises events to report its progress.

High Performance
OPC UA offers the capability to pre-encode messages with UA Binary before packaging them in a SOAP/XML compatible message improving performance by as much as 10 times as compared to the same message sent using XML. This architectural improvement provides benefits even when using SOAP/XML. This pre-encoding reduces the complexity and size of the XML before it is sent on the network.

Platform Independence
OPC UA architecture is designed to deliver high performance while being platform independent. This means developers can use their choice of languages and operating systems to develop OPC UA applications without being required to employ the lowest common denominator of SOAP/XML over HTTP.

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Importance of clear requirements & Service Level Agreements

IT industry in India is entering another interesting phase – on one hand the effect of global melt down is not fully over yet – job market on the other is all abuzz! I say so as although inputs emerging from across the world suggests a recovery, Indian IT industry largely being service oriented sees changes – chill or thaw, with a lag of quarter or two. We are obviously not neutral to these changes and are hiring. However results of our efforts were not to the expectations.

During recent review we tweaked the process and also modified the inputs we provide to recruiter and voila! We are now happy as that small change has had an alchemy effect. What did we do? We committed to recruiter that we will respond queries within one business day (and thereby reinforcing this project is important to us). We also modified our input to make it easier to understand as recruiter doesn’t have same vocabulary as my engineers do.

I have similar and related experience to share with respect to service delivery levels. Until recently I used to manage SoftDEL’s IT infrastructure. During the challenging times of 2009, like many business enterprises, we too had to cut IT budget and was to be done so without compromising service levels in company. In this process I saw positive impact of specifying SLA (Service Level Agreement) upfront and clearly – both on technical terms and on business terms.

These are all but experiences while being a customer. I wonder what our customers must be going through when we change the seat and move to a position of service provider ourselves? Often customers go through frustration as they don’t see their dollar returns. Global service delivery often lacks sight of local ground level application specific issues. It is thus important that we help customers by understanding business goals and technical requirements clearly and be upfront with expectation setting. For large and complex projects this itself can be a significant effort. But hey – it’s worth its time as it avoids many more meetings, phone calls in course correcting and reworked effort (thereby pulling team morale low) later on. Initial phases of our globalization process (Prodigy) focuses precisely on this aspect.

Do share your thoughts on how have you put smile on faces – either as a consumer of service or as a provider of service.

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Tablet computing for Industrial applications

As tablet computing make a grand splash in the home & enterprise market, there will inevitably be curious and tech-savvy controls engineers and IT managers that will want to test operational capability for Industrial applications as well.  Tablets though being cool, there is yet to be a good case made for them replacing laptops and PDAs on the market today.  However, it is not always the product itself, but what you can do with it that will drive adoption.  This means killer applications!

Just as useful applications are created for consumer and enterprise users, several applications will appear in both industrial automation and building automation.  Custom displays and interactive control interfaces will face largest competition as tablets allow for a much cheaper and flexible solution.

Tablet computers are best suited for the following automation applications:

  • Plant engineers using dashboard or monitoring applications while moving around a plant.
  • Alarm management and resolution.
  • Home automation applications as a universal home controller to monitor security systems, climate control, lighting and home theatre.  Several companies such as AMX and Crestron have already announced compatibility of the iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android platform based devices.
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