Industrial wireless monitoring and sensing

Applying industrial wireless applications to monitoring and sensing can serve as a risk management policy. Strong communications address many challenges facility operators face during process transformations.


Industrial wireless can be easier to implement when referencing a reference architecture, which can serve as a critical infrastructure integrity monitoring (CIIM) model. Courtesy: SAICWireless technology is a constantly evolving area, especially for industrial users, which often makes wireless infrastructure deployments in industrial environments difficult. Before taking on such a project, facility operators need to be aware of the challenges from rapid prototyping of wireless sensors in an industrial environment and the best practices for radio frequency (RF) design in complex or harsh RF environments, such as manufacturing, industrial, or power generation facilities.

The business drivers for this type of project can most often be associated with the transition from conditioned-based monitoring to performance-based monitoring. The conditioned-based monitoring approach typically means lack of on-line data to support diagnostics, and poor data alignment (such as with data residing in separate databases). In addition, the data points are usually collected manually, and the lack of continuous data does not allow for complex analytics or modeling.

Implementing wireless sensor sets create benefits across multiple areas. For instance, scarce engineering resources can focus on data analysis rather than data collection from disparate sources and can concentrate on few degrading trends rather than every trend. Maintenance workers can reduce or entirely eliminate selected data collection rounds through placement of wireless monitoring sensors. The need for deep technical capabilities on-site and concerns about inconsistent diagnostic results due to experience levels of individual employees can be greatly reduced.

By leveraging wireless technologies, operators can acquire critical component monitoring data in significantly higher volumes, reduce staff impact of making collection rounds, and focus those resources on data analysis and prognostics of issues. By implementing a wireless infrastructure and using it for the rapid deployment of new sensor types, operators can create significant advances in critical component monitoring.

Clear wireless infrastructure design

A haphazard approach to wireless infrastructure project strategy can create huge cost and end user satisfaction issues. Even with good performance parameters, failure can occur if they are for the wrong application. To design the project for success, start with a solid system integration approach and define the business case and a clear concept of operations (ConOps). At the very least, list and prioritize applications.

The approach, business case, and ConOps should drive technical specification and help manage end-user and client expectations. With this in hand, the throughput needs can be defined. These will affect technical decisions, such as access point density, backhaul infrastructure, switching, power requirements, cable/fiber runs, and facility penetrations, among others.

Next, focus on the RF design process. Major steps in the RF design process should include passive and active surveys. Start with a passive survey for RF data collection, spectrum analysis, building composition analysis, and the outdoor features/topology noted. The deliverable after the passive survey should be the preliminary design. Once complete, all of the data can be imported into the RF modeling software to generate the preliminary model and design.

Once the preliminary design is finalized, the active survey can start at the facility. The active survey should validate the exercise for the preliminary access point placements. Measure the actual signal performance and confirm the final design approach. Once approved, it is critical to work with the plant information technology staff and engineer of record to formulate the build package and for iterative reviews of design during the installation process as issues arise. After commissioning, designers should return to the facility for testing and tweaking of the operational system for optimal performance. This last step is often overlooked but is critical for successful implementation.

Critical infrastructure problem

Critical infrastructures have their own unique monitoring needs that are not being met, but a strategically planned wireless infrastructure deployment approach may help alleviate some challenges. Critical infrastructure systems are increasingly a complex blend of old and new systems with varying tolerances and management requirements. Aging infrastructure is expensive to instrument, monitor, and maintain. Often, this causes accidents. New infrastructure has its own set of issues and can generate an unmanageable “firehose” of uncorrelated data.

To complicate things further, today’s compliance requirements are reactionary and constantly evolving, and the market is flooded with fragmented point solutions. Right now, the industry lacks a clear “systems approach.” Accidents, shutdowns, and cyber attacks can occur with a failure to monitor and act, so a well-developed wireless deployment plan is even more important on a critical infrastructure project.

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