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Cooperation looks promising for wireless standards

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Standardization is a challenging but necessary path in the chemical process industries (CPI), whether it pertains to pumps, process equipment or one of the most-recent focuses and topic of this month’s Cover Story (p. 34), wireless instrumentation and control. Without standardization, a lack of interoperability can nearly defeat the noble purposes that untethered instrumentation and control is designed to provide. Quite often, though, the process of standardization, itself, introduces multiplicities that in themselves must be straightened out.

In hopes of laying a smooth foundation for wireless standards from the beginning, the powers that be in this case, namely the ISA100 Wireless Systems for Automation Standards committee and members of the HART Communication Foundation (HCF; www.hartcomm.org), are making a valiant effort toward integrating the recently released WirelessHART standard into the yet-to-be released ISA100. “From a manufacturers’ standpoint, nobody wants to build three or four different flavors of wireless,” says Ron Helson, HCF executive director. “There is no benefit to the user, and it just increases the cost.”

Given the scope of each standard and timing of the cooperation, this integration approach just might work. It isn’t too far off from how HCF has cooperated with Foundation Fieldbus, Profibus via electronic device description language (EDDL) initiatives, notes Helson. But it is different in that the discussion is taking place at a much earlier time in the process.

“If you look at ISA100, it has a much broader scope than WirelessHART,” points out Helson. WirelessHART has defined the way messages are communicated between the wireless field devices in process applications and the gateway. ISA100, by contrast, could go way on up into the higher control and enterprise platform. Furthermore, ISA100 is defining standards for wireless communication in factory automation and discrete devices, which are significantly different than those in process devices.

The agreed upon approach will attempt to accommodate the HART-7 wireless protocol in Release 1 of the ISA100.11a standard through a dual-gateway architecture, followed by a potentially more integrated approach in Release 2 of the ISA standard.  “The ISA100-WirelessHART Analysis Team is evaluating how the WirelessHART protocol within HART 7 can be incorporated into the ISA100.11a standard while remaining consistent with the objectives of the ISA100 family of standards,” said ISA100 co-chair Pat Schweitzer of Exxon Mobil during a meeting between the two organizations at ISA 2007 last month in Houston. “The most important part of that evaluation is the obligation to continue our commitment to the end user, and we’re confident that our final decisions will accomplish that goal.”

As Jeff Becker, director of global wireless business for Honeywell Process Solutions and author of this month’s Cover Story, adds, wireless performance for the end user is indeed what ultimately matters most in this context. End users only have one introduction to wireless technology. If the technology doesn’t work well and easily the first time, the second time will be much farther down the road.

Beyond this common goal, there is agreement on at least one more fact that appears to be consistent among all parties: As HCF’s Helson says, “The good thing is, we’re talking.”

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