Market waits impatiently for wireless comms

Paul Boughton

Manufacturers in the automotive, aerospace, electrical, electronics, machinery and other discrete industries are closely watching recent wireless developments in the process industries in hope that at least some of the outcomes will address their own requirements.

Recent process industry developments such as introduction of a wireless version of the Hart protocol for process sensors, plus the ISA 100 initiative for wireless process sensing, are of significant interest to discrete manufacturers. However, numerous differences between discrete versus process requirements will limit their applicability to discrete manufacturers.

 The worldwide market for wireless devices in discrete manufacturing is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.2 per cent over the next five years. The discrete wireless market for ISA SP50 levels 0 through 2 totalled $368.0million in 2007 and is forecast to grow to over $780million in 2012, according to a new ARC Advisory Group study.

ARC Vice President Chantal Polsonetti, the principal author of ARC's report 'Wireless Devices in Discrete Manufacturing Worldwide Outlook,' comments: "While the business drivers are in place, including wireless' status as 'the ultimate Fieldbus' from the perspective of wiring reduction, the lag in technology and standards development suitable to meet discrete industry requirements will contribute to an ongoing fissure in growth prospects for discrete versus process industries over the next five years. Divergent issues such as higher speed discrete processes that cannot tolerate the latency times of current wireless communications and the longer potential time-line for standardisation at the sensor/actuator level are just a few of the potential detractors to potential growth."

The prospect of a cable-free interface for use in control and data acquisition applications has the potential to impact discrete manufacturing significantly in core areas such as productivity, performance and cost reduction. Wireless technology enables these improvements through its ability to lower engineering costs, enable remote and/or mobile operations, add flexibility in the form of incremental improvements or changes to existing installations, and in general provide cable-free access and operation. Wireless technology can also bring powerful incremental control and monitoring capabilities to a process, serving production data up to enterprise applications and enabling ongoing improvements in productivity and operational performance.

Discrete manufacturers are often among the first companies pursuing leading-edge, advanced, often data-hungry, processes to improve performance and/or remove human intervention and the variability it brings. This type of automation, such as flexible manufacturing platforms in the automotive industry, often requires a significant amount of incremental monitoring, sensing and actuation of robots and their associated handling and control systems as they go through numerous production changes. In these instances the use of wireless products not only reduces cable failure in moving equipment; it also enables the addition and monitoring of incremental I/O and devices.

The standard configuration of WLAN and Bluetooth in mobile computing devices today points to their role as flashpoints in the trend toward wireless convergence in the market as a whole. This role will only expand as GSM and cellular networks are added to the PAN (personal area network) and WLAN (wireless local area network) interfaces already supported. Compliance requirements for time/date/location stamps that track movement of hazardous and other materials throughout a facility are a key driver behind this expanding convergence, while location-based services and RFID (radio-frequency identification) will be among the next requirements.


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