For many industrial plants, connectivity of control system components can be difficult and expensive. Wireless EtherNet/IP provides an easy way to overcome obstacles and extend your network to remote devices.
Consider this example: Plant operators at a large Southeastern steel mill needed a low-cost way to control the roll-up doors in the mill’s cooling area. The cooling space, which houses multiple conveyors to handle hot steel, is half the size of a football field. The area is equally as tall as it is wide to let the heat dissipate.
The traditional solution is to run wire. But, in this case running conduit posed several issues. First, plant engineers couldn’t run conduit under the machines because of the extreme heat. The alternative was to run the wire over the ceiling, which was still a dangerously hot area. To do this, the plant would’ve been forced to shut down during the installation process. The down time, labor and cost of materials would’ve been through the roof.
Instead, the engineers opted for an indusrial wireless connector that allowed them to place sensors on opposite walls next to the roll-up doors on either side of the building. This smart option, which cost $1,000, saved the steel mill thousands of dollars in the long run.
Wireless devices that extend connectivity are a good – and relatively inexpensive — choice for manufacturers moving into smart manufacturing. A base controller is connected to your network, allowing multiple wireless field nodes to be added as required. Field nodes are available in multiple I/O and functional configurations.
The nodes can have simple I/O points, but they can also be used as vibration sensors for motors, temperature and humidity as well as ultrasonic sensors that monitor pump-controlled tanks. The nodes send data to the controller, which converts it to EIP format before sending to the PLC or other device.
Other applications that use wireless connectivity include:
- Machine health monitoring
- Basic process control
- Monitoring of well heads
- Remote process monitoring
- Leak detection monitoring
- Diagnosis of field devices
- Condition monitoring of equipment
Wireless controllers aren’t a new concept, but are being introduced more and more onto the factory floor. Banner’s DXM100 industrial wireless controller interfaces local serial ports, local I/O ports and local ISM radio devices to the Internet using either a cellular connection or a wired Ethernet network connection.
Information generated by the sensors, indicators and control equipment is shared with automation systems and personnel by Internet messaging tools. The DXM can generate and send historical data logs, alerts and alarms to a smart phone or computer.
Application example using wireless controller to monitor tank levels
This feature was particularly helpful for a large manufacturer of beauty products in North Carolina, which needed to monitor tank levels that housed potentially explosive chemicals (acetone and alcohol). It was important that the shipping and receiving office knew if the tanks needed to be refilled since ordering and refilling takes about three days.
The issue they faced was how to get the data to shipping operations, which is about 600 feet from where the tanks are housed. One solution was to tear up the concrete in the parking lot to run conduit between the two locations, which would have disrupted the flow of products for days and involved a huge labor force to get everything done on time. Not to mention a very costly solution.
The tanks already had non-wireless sensors attached to detect chemical levels. By wiring the signal that indicated tank level to a Banner wireless radio, the data could be transmitted to the DXM gateway. From there it was reliably sent to the shipping/receiving office across the parking lot, even with constant truck activity. It was also put on their EtherNet/IP network, which now sends the data to the MES – making it available plant-wide. By opting for a smart, wireless control solution, plant managers saved more than $50,000.
Designed for long distance applications, the DXM100 has a direct line-of-sight distance of six miles, much longer than earlier versions, which maxed out at two to three miles. This makes it extremely powerful and effective for applications in remote and hard to access locations, and in areas where running wire or conduit is impractical and expensive (as in our examples above). That extra power helps penetrate through walls, merchandise, machines and anything else in the way.
Other standout benefits for industrial use include:
- Direct communication between controllers to I/O points
- Communication between controllers or over Ethernet or bus control system
- HMI communication to smart devices (phones and tablets)
- Remote access to the machine to facilitate troubleshooting or conduct programming/software updates
- Lower cost, more efficient use of space