Backward compatibility vs. future proofing

03/31/2010


We posted a news story earlier today containing some suggestions from Emerson Process Management on the topic of how WirelessHART and ISA100 can converge. While it may be an oversimplification, the gist of the matter seems to be that Emerson is suggesting that WiHART should become the working device-level protocol for ISA100. Adopt WiHART and be done with it.

This is a valid suggestion, and to many people, I’m sure it seems like a very logical approach. WiHART works, the number of devices available is growing, and there is a strong element of interoperability within the platform. Case closed.

Others aren’t so sure. You may have read Patrick Schweitzer’s comments on why he’s holding out for ISA100.11a. But there are at least two other points that need to be considered.

The first is HART itself. While there is every reason to believe that WiHART works exactly as advertised, just as it does in the wired world, the question you have to ask is if HART is the protocol you want to use for all your field device level communication. To many companies, using HART would be a major advance over plain analog, and it offers many capabilities beyond what they’re using now.

Still there are some who want a more advanced approach for one reason or another. For example, recently I attended the Fieldbus Foundation General Assembly and heard some interesting discussions of how that device networking method is being applied. While there are many reasons to use a fieldbus topology, arguably the most compelling one in this day and age is its ability to support sophisticated asset management. That was a major component of the discussion from Reliance Industries.

Herman Storey led a session specifically on asset management and explained how critical FF can be to an effective AMS. He made the point that you can use HART to support a program, but it is far more difficult to work with. Using a fieldbus network makes device diagnostic information much easier to get and it is better at helping preserve device configuration settings. If you’re using this kind of capability with your wired devices, you wouldn’t want to give it up for wireless.

The second point is more speculative but seems just as compelling. Over the years, many manufacturers with products that evolve try to maintain “backward compatibility.” You know, that’s when the new version of your spreadsheet software can still open files done in the earlier release. HART, like many in the same general space, has worked to make sure that devices built to its earlier protocols will still work with the new ones. Old devices may not gain the functionality improvements of the new platform, but they still operate as well as they always did. Nothing is forced into obsolescence.

It seems like there are opportunities for wireless devices to move from backward compatibility into a new realm of future proofing. I’m not sure of WiHART’s capabilities in this respect, but proponents of 11a say that most of what makes the devices work is embedded in software. This means that if there is an improvement in the protocol, the software can be replaced and the device moves forward rather than being stuck on the older release. Honeywell says it has done this, and as long as users are content with the 802.15.4 radio, the individual unit can be upgraded without hardware changes. How far this can go ultimately remains to be seen, but you can see the potential.

Let’s be realistic. As well thought out as these protocols are, they are going to pass through some iterations going forward. That’s a fact of life. The more you can build upgradability into the products, the better.



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
The true cost of lubrication: Three keys to consider when evaluating oils; Plant Engineering Lubrication Guide; 11 ways to protect bearing assets; Is lubrication part of your KPIs?
Contract maintenance: 5 ways to keep things humming while keeping an eye on costs; Pneumatic systems; Energy monitoring; The sixth 'S' is safety
Transport your data: Supply chain information critical to operational excellence; High-voltage faults; Portable cooling; Safety automation isn't automatic
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.

Maintaining low data center PUE; Using eco mode in UPS systems; Commissioning electrical and power systems; Exploring dc power distribution alternatives
Synchronizing industrial Ethernet networks; Selecting protocol conversion gateways; Integrating HMIs with PLCs and PACs
Why manufacturers need to see energy in a different light: Current approaches to energy management yield quick savings, but leave plant managers searching for ways of improving on those early gains.

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.