Wireless committees get their wires crossed

By Andrew Bond, Industrial Automation Insider
See links to other reports at bottom of page!

The long running saga of the ISA 100.11a wireless standard took a further intriguing turn in Orlando, Florida last month when a number of related sub-committees met alongside the ARC forum. Perhaps the most significant meeting was that considering the results of the “Nice Use Case Analysis Project”, so called because it originated at a meeting in Nice, France in 2008 (pleasant places these meetings have to be held in!).

  • Concerns over security remain the number one barrier to the adoption of wireless solutions in industry, according to the results of the first end-user survey to be conducted by WINA, the Wireless Industrial Networking Alliance. Half of survey participants who had not yet implemented wireless believed that wireless solutions were less secure than wired. However users in industries with more experience of the technology such as oil and gas most frequently perceived wireless to be as secure as or even more secure than wired devices.Presenting the results during the recent ARC forum in Orlando, WINA president Steve Toteda noted that “Heavy industry moves slowly, but very methodically. The growth of wireless devices from the current average of 5% to that of between 20 and 30% in five years represents a staggering advance for wireless.” But he added that “… the industry as a whole has failed to adequately address the misconception that wireless security is not as effective as hard wired – the truth is wireless is far more secure because of the use of strong encryption technology and network controls that eliminate unauhorized devices on the network.” That present rates of growth are set to continue or even accelerate is indicated by a fifth of respondents to the survey expecting wireless devices to make up 30% of their field devices by 2015, and another fifth believing that they will account for 20% or more within the same time frame.With 55% of respondents indicating that they were not influenced by brand names in selecting wireless devices, Toteda argued that future purchase decisions would not depend on brands already installed on site, suggesting that opportunities exist both for existing vendors to gain market share and for new entrants to make an impact.
  • Cooper Wireless, which brings together Cooper’s Canadian acquisition Omnex Controls and Elpro Technologies, the Australian company acquired by MTL in 2008, had its first public outing in Orlando, making a busy week for WINA president Steve Toteda who was recently appointed VP and general manager of the newly created Cooper Bussmann business unit (INSIDER, January 2010, page 3). “The merging of these brands allows us to provide our customers with increasngly comprehensive, highly-specified solutions for improving productivity and safety in demanding industrial and mobile control applications around the world,” he explained.
    Omnex, an early adopter of Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) technology, claims to have become the leading supplier of robust, ‘never-fail’ remote controls for the shipping, concrete pumping and placement and mobile boom sectors and has migrated its Trusted Wireless technology into industrial I/O and networking for fixed plant and field environments. The result is enterprise-wide wireless infrastructure solutions for water and waste water treatment, oil and gas extraction and refining and process manufacturing.
  • Missing elements
    Funded by Shell Global Solutions, the  analysis considered just one use case – that of a temperature transmitter sensing sea temperature and displaying it ashore – and only looked at about a third of the complete ISA 100.11a specification. Nevertheless it is understood to have come up with more than a dozen elements of the standard which were either missing, didn’t work or conflicted with other elements.

    What’s so interesting about these findings, apart from the suggestion that the standard, as approved in August of 2009, is incomplete and potentially unworkable, is that they relate back directly to issues raise by the appeal against its ratification made by, among others, Walt Boyes of CONTROL magazine, Sicco Dwars of Shell Global Solutions and Frederick Enns of Dust Networks. That is hardly surprising, perhaps, as no doubt supporters of the standard will be quick to  point out, since Dwars was apparently responsible for initiating the Nice use case project and Enns was one of those involved in conducting the analysis and made the presentation on it at the Orlando meeting. Readers will recall that it was rejection of that appeal by ISA on the grounds that it was submitted after the deadline which led to the failure of the America National Standards Institute (ANSI) to accept the standard at its November 2009 meeting (INSIDER, January 2010, page 5). Supporters of that appeal are now arguing that the Nice use case analysis confirms what they had been arguing all along, namely that by failing to follow their own procedures correctly when assessing technical comments on the standard prior to its final ratification they allowed previously identified deficiencies and inconsistencies to remain in the final document.

    Face saving
    Ironically, however, these latest developments look as if they may provide ISA with a face saving solution to the dilemma posed by ANSI’s insistence that the appeal be heard. While nobody is going to admit that there is anything wrong with the existing version of the standard, the word on the Orlando street is that ISA 100.11a will undergo “maintenance” over the coming months to render it “more robust” and that the resultant revised document will then be put out to ballot in time for it to be released in the early autumn, ideally at the new ISA Automation Week event in Houston in October. The beauty of this solution is that, while it tacitly overcomes the original objections, it obviates the need to hear the appeal since it will be a new, rather than the original, document which will eventually be submitted to ANSI and which should therefore meet with that body’s unqualified approval – assuming, of course, that ISA manages to follow its own procedures correctly this time around.

    Meanwhile, also meeting at Orlando was ISA 100.12, the sub-committee charged with finding a way to converge ISA 100.11a with WirelessHART. Logically one would expect that any sign of further delay in finalizing the ISA standard, which can only increase WirelessHART’s already substantial lead, would encourage efforts to accelerate the convergence project, not least because, as Gary Mintchell of Automation World reported in his own ‘Feed Forward’ blog, “…a panel of practitioners at one session at the ARC Forum uniformly pleaded for a single wireless standard.”

    Mintchell’s own assessment of the current state of the convergence project is blunt in the extreme. “… attempts to rationalize the differences between the two standards appear to be dead,” he says. And he’s not alone in pointing out that while the HART Foundation has been repeatedly criticized for being a ‘pay-to-play’ supplier consortium, dominated as many believe, or at least find it convenient to suggest, by a single supplier, Emerson, the ISA’s own wireless activities, which purport to be user driven, are in fact increasingly being identified with Honeywell and the chip supplier Nivis.

    If all that’s giving you a feeling of déjà vu, it’s probably because you’re being reminded of such alleged but largely spurious past red herrings as Rockwell – DeviceNet, Siemens – Profibus and Emerson – Foundation fieldbus or even, if your memory stretches back far enough, IBM – Token Ring and Xerox/DEC- Ethernet!

    The above articles appeared in the March 2010 issue of Industrial Automation Insider (IAI) and are reproduced by kind permission of the author.

    Some other links which may interest readers of this article!

    Automation.com: Industrial Wireless – not ready for prime time? – (Bill Lydon, Editor InTech, reports on the Industrial Wireless Standards Session)

    Control Engineering: Wireless interoperability? What is that? (Control Engineering process industries editor, Peter Welander)

    ARC World Industry Forum: Where Industry Leaders Meet to Solve Their Most Challenging Issues (8/11 Feb 2010)
    End Users Plead for a Single Wireless Standard at ARC Orlando Forum ARC clients may view this report by Harry Forbes (11 Mar 2010)

    ISA100 Wireless Complience Institute – Industry leaders from major manufacturing and automation control system users and suppliers have formed an organization to establish essential specifications and processes to be used in the testing and certification of wireless products and systems for the ISA100 family of wireless standards.

    See also the box entitled Table 2 Discussion on our item Conquering Complexity (January 2010) which talks about WirelessHart and Emerson and the Wireless Standard!

    Highlights from the ARC 2010 Orlando Forum General Session by Paul Millar and Dick Hill (ARC Advisory Grp 12 Feb) This has a pdf downloadable report. It is available as a html page from Automation.com

    Managing Automation: Collaboration, Security are focus at ARC Forum (Stephanie Neil)

    Automation World: Gary Mintchell Video Report – 2010 ARC Forum (you’ll have to log in!)

    Packaging World: Editor Pat Reynolds talks about controls, automation, sustainability, and cyber security with South African Breweries controls engineer Garth Basson. (you’ll have to log in!).
    Operational excellence a strong draw to ARC Forum (Pat Reynolds Editor in Chief)

    One Response to Wireless committees get their wires crossed

    1. Walt Boyes says:

      Basically, what ISA has done is to float an administrative ballot to perform a “maintenance” exercise on ISA100.11a, to fix the stuff that clearly didn’t work, based on the Nice Use Case study. Effectively, the committee will have to fix the stuff identified as non-starters that they originally changed from technical comments to editorial comments and ignored. Oops. The standard didn’t work.

      From my point of view as one of the appellants, this action is what ISA would have undertaken if our appeal had been heard, and approved.

      Assuming we do the job right this time, I believe the appellants will be happy, and the standard will work.

      There’s been some kvetching about calling it a maintenance activity instead of withdrawing the standard while it undergoes revision. “Maintenance is what you do on something that is working,” an anonymous member of the ISA100 committee noted.

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