Using mobile phone technology

The technology now available behind the mobile phone has introduced many new industrial applications using wireless communication, and radar for sensors, at reasonable prices. This year has seen an explosion of battery powered wireless sensor systems, largely eliminating the headaches, time and costs previously needed to install the new plant wiring for an extra monitoring point. A story last week from National Instruments announces their entry into the wireless field, with the NI Wireless Sensor Network platform for data acquisition systems feeding into LabView software. This is listed in the “Wireless Sensors” subject category on Processingtalk (Link), which now displays over 250 relevant stories, mainly added in the last year, making it the fastest growing subject section on the website. Interestingly NI say that their DAQ field mounted nodes are powered by four AA batteries for up to 3 years. Battery life, status monitoring and on-plant replacement seems to be the new headache introduced for instrument engineers by the clever wireless sensors, but we will probably soon see new developments in power sources following on, and will report them here.

Another review from Flowline describes their Flodar radar-based open channel flow measurement system, originally developed by Marsh-McBirney (Link). This article describes the principle of operation of the system, placing great emphasis on the way that regular sensor cleaning is not necessary, because all the sensors are above the sewage or effluent flow. Flow speed is sensed by a radar sensor monitoring the liquid surface movement, and liquid level is measured by ultrasonic pulse echo techniques, allowing the open channel flow computation by velocity-area calculations. Flowline claim the radar beam penetrates the surface sufficiently to make the speed measurement unaffected by wind effects, but I wonder why the system still uses ultrasonics for level measurement? Nevertheless Marsh McBirney claim to have supplied over 4000 of these systems, and Flowline show some interesting applications monitoring Anglian Water sewage works intakes, as well as trade effluent monitoring systems in Wilton.

Honeywell certainly believe in radar for level and tank contents measurement, and their latest story, on the wireless sensors topic, reports that their Flexline Wireless Radar Gauge, using both radar and wireless comms, is delivering level measurements to control room operators, in systems approved by the Dutch authorities for ship and truck unloading (Link). I also found the recent Emerson story of a control system upgrade of interest, where DeltaV workstations have replaced aging Bailey HMI systems on an Algerian oilfield, yet still interfacing to the legacy control system, a Bailey INFI 90 DCS (Link).

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