The market will also change its character during the period, as new standardized wireless sensing products and hardened wireless local area networks (LAN) penetrate the process market. Deployment of wireless in continuous process manufacturing industries (e.g., chemicals, oil & gas, oil refining, electric power, mining & metals) has lagged other manufacturing industries, such as automotive and aerospace, because process plants are often larger and located mainly outdoors, and because the presence of dangerous and potentially explosive materials mandates use of equipment carrying special certifications.
Wireless process sensing is expected to be the fastest growing market segment. Today it accounts for only a small portion of the total market, but according to ARC, it will become the largest segment during the next five years, as the market absorbs a deluge of new wireless sensing products that comply with wireless versions of industrial standards. Two industrial networking standards, WirelessHART and ISA100, both use the same sensor radio hardware as the ZigBee standard, but with their own software. The driving force for wireless process sensing is its dramatically lower installation cost, which ARC believes will cause the normal change-averse process industries to use it wherever they can, leading to more rapid adoption.
Wireless LAN use will also grow rapidly, spurred by the introduction of new access point products that can safely be installed in the hazardous environments that may be present in such plants. The longer range and clearer signals of future IEEE 802.11n wireless will also make them attractive to process industry customers.
“Manufacturers in the process industries know that they need better visibility into operations that occur inside their own fence,” said Harry Forbes, Senior Analyst at Boston-based ARC Advisory Group. “ARC’s end user research indicates that manufacturers believe better visibility has huge potential value in the form of more consistent use of best practices, higher plant utilization, and improved operational safety.”
Another area of operations where improved (and wireless-enabled) practices have high potential is major equipment “turnarounds”. These are pre-planned major maintenance activities that are becoming increasingly complex and involve huge numbers of coordinated tasks, contractors, suppliers, and materials over ever-shorter outage periods.