Smart wireless network monitors critical equipment

Paul Boughton
Self-organising wireless technology is enabling continuous monitoring of critical equipment contributing to improved reliability of power stations.

PPL Corporation, headquartered in Allentown, Pa, USA, controls more than 11,000 megawatts of generating capacity in the United States, sells energy in key US markets, and delivers electricity to more than 4 million customers in Pennsylvania and the UK.

Emerson Process Management's smart wireless technology has proven to be 'extremely cost-effective and reliable' in providing continuous performance data on critical boiler feed pumps at PPL Generation's Montour power station, as well as feedwater and air heaters at its Brunner Island Unit 1 power plant, both in Pennsylvania, USA.

"The additional information provided by the wireless instruments allows us to more effectively monitor the mechanical and thermal performance of these valuable assets," said Joe Murach, who is supervisor of equipment reliability.

Thermal performance

Key temperature and pressure measurements were not available previously to populate software designed to analyse thermal performance and determine preventive maintenance schedules. Company officials have long wanted to obtain this information, but the high cost of installing wiring was an obstacle they could not overcome.

"Emerson's Smart Wireless technologies reduced our installation costs by 50 per cent, making it the only option for obtaining the data we needed," Murach said.

Suction pressure

Emerson's Smart Wireless technology was chosen following an on-site demonstration that proved its ability to transmit reliably, despite the dense infrastructure of the power plant.

Rosemount wireless transmitters were installed at the Montour plant to monitor suction pressure and DP across the suction screen, as well as other points that provide a valuable insight to the overall condition of the feed water pumps.

A smart wireless network was installed at the Brunner Island plant to include wireless measurements to help determine thermal efficiency of the feed water heater and the air preheating systems.

Wireless transmitters

More than 25 wireless transmitters were installed in a widely distributed layout around the unit's feedwater and air heating systems. The data is pulled into the plants historian, as well as its reliability monitoring software.

"The Emerson technology is able to handle the power plant environment," Murach said. "The transmitters communicate with the gateway without a problem even across several floors and through walls.

"Installing wireless eliminated the need for drilling through concrete decks, installing conduit and cable trays, and pulling wires. Instead, we have an easily installed, cost-effective and reliable wireless network."

Each wireless device in the PPL self-organising network acts as a router for other nearby devices, passing messages along until they reach their destination. If there is an obstruction, transmissions are simply re-routed along the mesh until a clear path to the Smart Wireless Gateway is found.

As conditions change or new obstacles are encountered, such as temporary scaffolding, new equipment, or a parked construction trailer, the self-organising wireless network simply finds a way to deliver the messages.

Redundant communication paths

All of this happens automatically, without any involvement by the user, providing redundant communication paths and better reliability than direct, line-of-sight communications between individual devices and their gateway.

This technology optimises data reliability while minimising power consumption. It also reduces the effort and infrastructure necessary to set up a successful wireless network.

Murach said: "We are now able to monitor more closely the condition of our valuable assets like the feedwater pumps and determine the thermal efficiency of critical equipment.

The newly available information allows us to optimise boiler efficiency and detect problems at their onset. This enables our maintenance personnel to make repairs at the most opportune time rather than waiting until something fails unexpectedly."

Technology centres

Emerson's has established technology and design facilities around the world that enable the company to work with customers in the regions of the world where they are located. More than 7000 engineers are working to develop solutions.

These centres are located in more than 20 countries around the world. The corporate network includes two centres of excellence - the Emerson Software Center of Excellence and the Emerson Advanced Design Center - that focus on software development and R&D across the Emerson family of companies. These are based in the United States, co-ordinate with product engineering and software design professionals around the world to share best practices.

Emerson has also established corporate-sponsored engineering and design centres in Pune and Chandighar, India and in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, to strengthen the company's global R&D capabilities. In addition, many of Emerson's business units have established their own R&D facilities in many of the countries in which they operate to meet their specialised needs


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