Manufacturing applications put wireless systems to the test
Similar to the 1970s with announcements surrounding distributed control systems, wireless is the new hot topic in the process control industry. Many companies are turning to wireless systems to help them save money by eliminating wiring costs.
Consequently, wireless devices are gaining recognition for improving operations in areas such as critical life-safety reporting needs, chemical spills and overflow, employee accident reporting and coded alarm signaling.
Plant managers are flooded with information on wireless and the latest advancements of the technology. However, real-world plant examples demonstrate the value that wireless offers toward increasing safety, reliability and efficiency in industrial plants.
Wireless improves safety
CSL Behring is a global leader in the plasma protein biotherapeutics industry, employing more than 6,000 people in 18 countries. Dedicated to treating rare and serious diseases, Behring’s line of therapies include products for treating hemophilia and other coagulation disorders, immunoglobulins for preventing and treating immune disorders, treatments that inhibit the formation of blood clots, wound-healing agents used during major surgical procedures and plasma expanders for treating conditions such as shock, burns and circulatory disorders.
Behring’s alcohol tanks sit outside, rather than in an enclosed area. This requires employees to walk up narrow stairways to the tops of the 50-year-old, 10,000-gallon storage tanks, which stand about 15-feet high. “We have employees walking out to these tanks in the rain and snow and whatever else,” said Jeff Dabney, senior process engineer at Behring’s Kankakee, IL facility.
The intense alcohol concentration in the tanks presented potential explosion and safety risks for employees who would manually check the alcohol levels. Behring searched for a way to better monitor its alcohol tank levels and reduce safety risks, and decided to eliminate one of the cycle’s most routine tasks: manual alcohol tank monitoring.
Running signal wiring to this outdoor application would require crossing several roads, which ruled out the possibility of using trenches. Large trucks must gain tank access, which presented additional wiring and access limitations. “We had a big challenge finding a level measuring system to run into our Class 1, Div. 1 area that did not involve thousands of dollars in intrinsic barriers alone,” Dabney said. “So this would mean a large expense in putting up an overhead conduit system. The costs of wiring prevented us from doing the project for a long time.”
Behring solved the alcohol tank monitoring dilemma with a wireless solution that allowed it to monitor the tanks on a real-time basis without exposing operators to the manual measurement risks. Wireless transmitters enabled the company to automate monitoring in areas where hard-wired transmitters are too costly, difficult or time-consuming to implement.
The wireless base at Behring now sits about 300 yards away from the storage tanks next to a cooling tower on the facility campus. Pressure transmitters sense the weight of the alcohol in the tanks and send the data to the wireless base, which then transmits the values to a PLC.
Employees can view the data any time on a computer screen instead of manually checking levels. The wireless transmitters also enable Behring to reduce the amount of alcohol vapors emitted into the air because workers no longer have to physically open the tanks to take measurements.
By implementing wireless transmitters, CSL Behring is meeting compliance regulations more efficiently, as well as increasing data access and availability for improved decision making. And the employees are safer because manually monitoring alcohol tank levels has been eliminated.
Repsol YPF is an integrated global oil and gas company, operating in more than 28 countries. It is the industry leader in Spain and Argentina, and the largest private energy company in Latin America in terms of assets. A multi-national energy and chemical company producing more than 1.2 million barrels per day, Repsol maintains a firm belief in technological innovation accompanied by the development of environmentally friendly technology.
In 2004, an underwater pipeline crossing the Colorado River was completed in the Puesto Molina production area in Argentina. One oil pipeline, two gas pipelines and an aqueduct 585 miles long were installed under the river. Security and environmental standards required that Repsol maintain accurate pipeline monitoring to avoid possible spills into the river in the event of a pipe breakage.
Repsol considered using pressure transmitters to sense pressure on the pipelines, but the costs of mounting and maintenance were prohibitive. However, wireless transmitter technology offered significant measurement and monitoring advantages.
Additionally, the wireless solution was designed for applications with little to no access to power, hazardous or remote locations where instrumentation changes are frequent or where manual readings are usually taken.
According to Repsol project engineer Sergio Iurchuk, wireless pressure measurement helped remove the barriers to installation and startup costs but still provided a reliable, secure and safe monitoring system.
Continuous pipeline pressure monitoring and integration into a SCADA reporting system were implemented as part of the control system in place. Once the wireless solution was selected, various options were analyzed to do the pressure monitoring on the pipelines. After the completion of the engineering design concepts, the wireless implementation was chosen.
By using wireless pressure transmitters to maintain accurate monitoring of pipelines crossing the Colorado River in Argentina, Repsol realized several benefits including:
Overall cost savings of more than 37% by using wireless technology instead of traditional technology
Cost reduction in development, installation, engineering, mounting and startup
Increased data and measurement reliability with the elimination of data transmission faults
A 50% reduction in maintenance costs because of the wireless system’s high reliability, stability and automatic diagnostic capabilities
Removal of barriers to monitoring variables where traditional technology was too costly to implement.
Wireless technology is becoming more than just a convenience: it has become a business tool that offers savings beyond maintenance and installation costs. It helps to lessen the financial blow of lost production and cleanup, and helps ensure worker safety. Many companies are finding that wireless is an effective method for staying environmentally friendly and compliant.
How widespread the use of wireless devices becomes in the process control industry will be determined by the willingness of companies to view the technology not as tactical, but strategic.
Author Information Jeff Becker is the director of Global Wireless Business for Honeywell Process Solutions. He has held engineering, sales, marketing and general management positions at 3Com, Intel and Ingram Micro.