Backward compatibility vs. future proofing


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...
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Raising the standard: What's new with NFPA 70E; A global view of manufacturing; Maintenance data; Fit bearings properly
Sister act: Building on their father's legacy, a new generation moves Bales Metal Surface Solutions forward; Meet the 2015 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Pipeline vulnerabilities? Securing hydrocarbon transit; Predictive analytics hit the mainstream; Dirty pipelines decrease flow, production—pig your line; Ensuring pipeline physical and cyber security
Upgrading secondary control systems; Keeping enclosures conditioned; Diagnostics increase equipment uptime; Mechatronics simplifies machine design
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Building high availability into industrial computers; Of key metrics and myth busting; The truth about five common VFD myths

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

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.