Technews Guide to Wireless

Last year, in July 2015, the Journal South African Instrumentation & Control, published by, released a new title in their ‘Industry Guide’ series, this time covering wireless applications of instruments in control systems. With 44 pages of ideas and applications, and background to the application of wireless comms for the instrument engineer, this gave a really useful source document – in the long tradition of these industry guides on relevant topics. This wireless guide is still available as a pdf on-line from Technews.

I was lucky enough to be asked to submit a review article covering some of the more recent applications of wireless that had caught my attention at the time. All of these are still topical, and relevant, so the review is now published here, with thanks to Technews. The reason for resurrecting the article is mainly because more information has just emerged about the application for the vibration powered sensors originating from Cambridge University research, now in use on the Forth Road Bridge. The new info, from a recent article in The Engineer is added at the end.



The Forth Road Bridge, in Scotland, with the suspension cables being monitored by wireless vibration sensors, powered by harvesting energy from those same bridge vibrations! 

Industrial wireless communications for sensor data and plant information is now available, proven on site, and built into Internationally accepted standards. Wireless links should now be seen as just another family of techniques for the plant manager or engineer to consider alongside 4-20mA loops, fieldbus networks, and data links. Most would accept that plant data can be ‘monitored’ over wireless as effectively as from these other networks: but the action resulting from the monitoring can also create a control loop.

To those who say that wireless links should never be used within control loops, it is appropriate to remind them that sludge blanket levels on settlement tanks have been monitored, and the data transmitted over a wireless link to control the de-sludging operations, for well over 30 years. Add to that a comment about the latest North Sea offshore gas platforms, where Fire and Gas Shutdown systems are now offered by Yokogawa, using wireless gas detectors, with a dual redundant wireless network to reliably transmit all crucial alarm data back to the logic system, alongside sensor health and battery status information.

So how else can the phrase ‘wireless sensor network’ cause a misapprehension?

That internet hype and Process Plants…?

The adoption of wireless as a plant tool has probably even been held back…. by the apparent hype and emphasis on the Internet, the ‘Internet of Things’, and ‘Big data’ networks monitoring lots of sensors – Sensors Everywhere. Financial Directors suddenly see enormous expenditure, hundreds of USD1000 sensors, mushrooming recruitment for expanded IT departments – and then they pick up the latest management articles forecasting major impacts from hacking and data breaches. No wonder they are sceptical even before starting to read a proposal.

From reports about many of the application examples quoted by the enthusiastic suppliers over the last few years, it appears that success in the application of a wireless based system has come to plant engineers who had a specific and defined requirement, a problem for which the engineer’s assessment showed that a wireless system provided the most logical and cost effective answer. But then, would you expect anything less from an engineer? The typical number of wireless sensors installed initially might be quite low, say a dozen or less: usually the cost justification is based on the problems of new wiring to these extra sensors on an existing plant.

Plant networks from the major suppliers

Inevitably in this competitive field, with many vested interests, it is difficult to find a non-partisan authoritative spokesman: so Ted Masters, President and CEO of the HART Communications Foundation, says (in a video shown on the Emerson website, entitled “WirelessHART: An Executive Perspective”)

“WirelessHART ….. gives users the opportunity to bring in valuable data that can be used in systems to help decision support, particularly in plants that are already installed and already wired. Now the ability to put a point anywhere and bring it easily into the system …… will ultimately yield better performing plants for users”

The video quoted above also features Peter Zornio, Chief Strategic Officer from Emerson Process Management, who paints their stance as totally devoted to ‘Pervasive Sensors’, ie sensors everywhere, monitoring the standard process plant parameters, but also gas leaks, steam leaks, corrosion/erosion, vibration, flames and valve activation, for example on safety showers. This is logical, from a sensor manufacturing company: and Emerson has been collecting a whole range of new sensors to create a family of, typically, add-on plant monitoring sensors. The clue then is in the name, WirelessHART: the network provides all the data you would get from a 4-20mA HART sensor, plus the battery status in the ‘wire-less’ sensor. Other suppliers have joined Emerson as WirelessHART enthusiasts and promoters: these are mainly from the wired-HART sensor manufacturers – like Endress+Hauser, Pepperl+Fuchs – but also include ABB and Siemens.

The ISA100 viewpoint

The alternative wireless sensor data network for process plants, primarily on offer from Yokogawa and Honeywell Process Solutions, is built according to the ISA100 US standard. Suffice it to say that the ISA100 and WirelessHART systems are incompatible, but very much the same as each other, same frequency 2400MHz, similar principles of networking between sensors. Yokogawa concentrate on collecting process sensor information, in the same way as WirelessHART, and have made their ISA100 sensor interface electronics available for any other manufacturer who wishes to incorporate it into their own sensors.

ISA100 has additional capabilities, in that systems can be configured to have a defined time response, and the network messaging can also “package” up electronic message data from the sensor, transmit it over the network, and reconstitute it in the original format at the control room end. So this is useful for sending rotating equipment vibration signatures, and other waveforms from sensor systems for analysis by proprietary electronic units. Yokogawa has progressed this so that they can attach an ISA100 transmitter to a standard HART sensor, even power it from their wireless transmitter battery if needed, and send the HART data back over the ISA100 system: a similar RS485 Modbus unit is also planned.

The Honeywell approach does seem to be defined by their wireless product family tradename, “OneWireless”: it presents a wireless network infrastructure for a process plant that can deal with all potential requirements, using ISA100 for sensors, wifi systems for on plant access and control by laptop type systems, phones and tablets, and the capability to incorporate security cameras and video streaming from engineer’s devices.

After understanding all this diversity, the whole lot, WirelessHART, ISA100, wifi and video transmission, all seems to go through on-site wireless access points and aerials that use Cisco hardware and technology.

The second wireless project

The first wireless project is a major step, and is likely to be driven by a pressing need, which justifies the initial investment – or is restricted in plant area coverage so is cost effective.

Possibly the plant engineer’s subsequent enthusiasm for any further wireless network technology comes when he then discovers that the wireless infrastructure created makes the next project easier, and more cost effective. However, this only happens when the network used suits the developing requirements for data collection and wireless communications on the plant, so hopefully the choice of the network adopted took this into account.

It does seem that many engineers who try wireless once are then converted, and go on to invest in further, expanded installations!

On-plant network examples

The amazing thing is, the examples quoted are all unique, driven by specific site requirements. Straight sensor monitoring is typically via WirelessHART. A simple justification project where the network avoided new hard wired connections across the plant for Health and Safety rule updates that required alarm monitoring of safety shower usage was maybe the first of many new applications. Leak detection on storage tank farms using sensors for hydrocarbons within bund walls was justified in a similar way, to meet environmental legislation. Other areas where hard-wired links are a hassle are rotating and transportable equipment, and construction sites: temperature sensors in rotating lime/cement kilns are ideal for wireless monitoring.

An application in the UK from Emerson Process Management illustrates the progressive adoption success with wireless techniques in an existing plant that initially appeared to present installation challenges. Barking Power is a relatively mature 1000MW CCGT power station near London, suffering from steam losses. A wireless project used Rosemount wireless acoustic transmitters to monitor steam traps for leakage, on a rolling basis round the plant. Quickly, a leak from a high pressure super heater steam trap was identified, which itself could have wasted GBP1400 of steam a day. A further 15 acoustic detectors were added to monitor vent valves that can stick during start-up, and also for relief valves that may not seat correctly. There were few problems with wireless communications even in the enclosed environment around the turbine hall. The battery powered wireless devices were easy to move around the plant to test new locations.


Emerson WirelessHART acoustic monitor installed on a relatively inaccessible steam trap discharge line at Barking Power

Then, high vibration levels were observed manually on the gas turbine starter motor, indicating a major problem. New parts were ordered but the motor needed constant monitoring to nurse the plant through to the next maintenance window. A motor failure would have caused damage in excess of GBP200,000, but keeping the plant running for a further two days could accrue revenue of over GBP50,000. So an Emerson CSI 9420 wireless vibration transmitter was added to the network, and the motor instantly monitored for potential failure. Travis Culham, a Rotating Machinery Engineer at Barking Power, commented: “We concluded that if Emerson’s Smart Wireless Technology could be successfully applied on this challenging application, then it could be applied pretty much anywhere on the plant”.


An Emerson wireless acoustic monitor on a vent valve at Barking Power

A major application for wireless sensors from Honeywell Process Solutions will be the new Shah Gas project near Abu Dhabi. Because of a high percentage of hydrogen sulphide (23.5%), the project is unique, and needs significant worker protection and monitoring of this poisonous gas. This has led to the development of wireless H2S monitoring sensors by Honeywell Analytics, which will incorporate a ‘worker’ location and communication system: this actually uses a triangulation system on the wifi network to provide location data. At the perimeter of the plant there was a requirement for further H2S detectors to protect the local offices, and provide a klaxon warning in the event of a gas escape. Again wireless communication was specified for each gas detection pole, with a 1 second response time guaranteed. Here by choosing star topology for the network communications and with the time determinism defined within the messaging, only the ISA100 system was able to meet this specification.

Wireless Data links

Data links to connect typically a single remote outstation unit back to a control centre offer a different set of applications for wireless. Many are associated with the oil industry, in terms of oil and gas fields, and pipeline monitoring. Others are for agriculture, or environmental monitoring, or water resource management. Founded in 1993, Freewave Technologies in Boulder, Colorado, claim to be a specialist in reliable wireless machine to machine (M2M) and IOT communications solutions, now having supplied over a million systems. It does appear that they have developed the industrial side of this US based business in parallel with a lot of defence/military work on UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) data transmission, and now have 2400MHz systems available for markets which cannot use the US 900MHz frequency band systems. The product range can replace wired systems for Ethernet or serial data transmission, or collection, transmission and repeating of SCADA system data, or multiple I/O circuits, over a wireless link.

In agriculture, the use of unmanned autonomous machinery is growing for practices such as harvesting, mowing and spraying. In a citrus fruit grove in Florida, Freewave M2M systems allowed an operator to supervise several autonomous mowing and spraying machines, only intervening when the machine meets an obstacle it cannot handle. Transmitted images show the operator what the machine is doing, and hopefully what the problem is: he can then use the wireless link to take control and direct the tractor around and away, presumably re-programming the route to be used in future. In this test the tractor used GPS Real-Time Kinetics location systems to provide the basic navigation (with centimetric accuracy) of the orchard, and one base wireless tower enabled reasonable coverage of a 3000 acre site: small repeater towers were used to provide coverage behind areas of denser foliage and trees.  Simpler Freewave wireless SCADA transmission for a wide-spread water supply and sewage network has been installed for Parker Water and Sanitation across parts of Colorado. Here the major advantage is that the remote outstation can be re-programmed remotely, over the wireless link, avoiding the need for and delay caused by a site visit.

The use of wireless around the site on remote oil and gas well systems is quoted by Emerson and Honeywell, to save on site wiring, complexity and power. These use the WirelessHART or ISA100 systems quoted previously. But there are also packages for collecting data from such remote operation sites, supplied by Honeywell and others, with integrated solar panels trickle charging battery systems, then providing remote wireless data links.

The Big Battery question

What about the power supply for these wireless sensors? That has been the biggest question, and the current batteries are big too, making a fairly large sensor housing necessary. But this is the main area where technology is moving fast to catch up.

After five years of operation in Emerson sensors, the answer to this question is still that they are not seeing a significant demand for replacement battery packs. Yokogawa offer a two cell battery pack that is suitable for exchange in the field, even in a hazardous area. The pack, with enclosed lithium/thionyl chloride batteries that are available from standard suppliers, allows cell replacement by the user. But battery packs still seem to have a 7-10 year life expectancy: the life actually depends on the sensor response time the user requires. By the time the battery pack needs replacement, the current growth of battery technology will have provided a better cell.


Commercial batteries for an intrinsically safe battery pack, which can be fitted on site to a Yokogawa DP cell

There are also some really interesting developments in energy scavenging power sources already. In the UK, Perpetuum developed an energy harvester that could power an integrated wireless vibration monitoring sensor, creating the power from a moving magnet within a coil. Subsequently, the company have split their vibration-generator unit from the harvesting electronics, so that the latter can replace, for example, the battery in an Emerson wireless pressure transmitter, and the Harvester part is mounted on an adjacent motor or similar -that creates some vibration. Then the harvesting electronics can also be used to collect other inputs, for example from solar cells.


A Pepetuum Intelligent Power Module designed to fit the Emerson 3051S pressure transmitter

This could be the next area where further developments in technology will impact the design of wireless sensors. From ABB, the TSP300-W wireless temperature sensor has a micro-thermal electric generator (micro-TEG, a form of thermopile) that can generate power from the temperature difference (>20⁰C) between the ambient temperature, and that of the process being monitored, whether hot or cold. This is used to trickle charge a Lithium battery, which will operate for ten years at least.


A power module for a sensor chip, from Illinois

Research is coming up with even more novel power ideas like this. At the other end of the size spectrum, researchers at the University of Illinois have produced a lithium-ion micro-battery suitable for ‘on-chip’ integration, using 3D holographic lithography. New lighter batteries using sodium-ion technology are being developed by Faradion to replace conventional lithium-ion cells. Cambridge University researchers have taken the energy harvesting vibration sensor further, in order to produce small self-powered wireless sensors that can be stuck onto the Forth Road Bridge in Scotland, to monitor the effects of traffic vibrations in the suspension cables.

The next step

The recent big consumer technology changes have enabled the technology, with mobile phones producing the economically priced components, aerials etc. Better capacitors, energy scavenging, batteries will all emerge to make the sensors longer lasting. Standards and customers are making the suppliers work together, and they are chasing to satisfy the significant new market demand.

Probably the major limitation to further adoption of these wireless systems in any industry will be in terms of expertise – the knowledge and understanding needed to design and put the systems together. There will be a lot of opportunity for installers and engineers to develop expertise in these new and niche applications, and there should be plenty of new applications emerging! But for once, some of the easiest applications are on process plants, even in hazardous areas, as the products and packages available for these jobs are now established.


2016 Update on the Forth Road Bridge:

The above text was written in July 2015. Since then new applications have been reported here on But this month’s story in The Engineer gives more information on the Forth Road Bridge application: Jason Ford reported:

“Cambridge start-up 8power has signed a contract with Innovate UK to support the development of its vibration energy harvesting (VEH) technology, an advance with a range of money-saving sensor applications.

The contract funds a collaborative project led by 8power and supported by Costain and the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) at Cambridge University. It aims to develop a sustainable, scalable business case for the deployment of sensors in a range of industrial, infrastructure and construction applications.

According to 8power, VEH employs parametric resonance to facilitate power generation from a variety of vibration sources including motors, moving vehicles, or traffic-induced movement in structures such as bridges.

In October 2016 8Power was named the winner of the 7th Discovering Start-ups competition, which is organised by Cambridge Wireless.

Speaking at the event, Dr Antony Rix, 8Power CEO said that advances in wireless technology are making it easier to monitor a range of variables but that the acquisition of data requires large batteries or regular battery replacement.

“Our team solved this problem by developing a fundamental, patented innovation and a technique called vibration energy harvesting, “ he said. “What we do is take vibration energy that’s naturally there in the environment and turn it into electrical power.”

He added that the conventional – and inefficient – way of doing this is to swing a mechanical resonator from side to side, moving a magnet through a coil to generate electricity.

“What we do instead is move the anchor point up and down and this creates massively more energy and that means much more power, about 10 times more than our competitors…as a result the 8Power technology can enable this technology to power sensors in a much wider range of applications where the batteries of our competitors simply can’t compete,” he said.


“Trials of the technology on the Forth Road Bridge have demonstrated that the solution works in live conditions.”

Yokogawa invests in IIOT cybersecurity

Yokogawa has made some significant investments in the resources needed to develop future techniques for IIOT cybersecurity, first with a new engineering centre to be established in California, and second, by investing US$900,000 into Bayshore Networks, as a partner in a current round of venture capital funding.

New IIOT Division

The new Yokogawa Architecture Development Division in California will pursue the development of the core technologies needed to establish the robust and flexible architecture required to improve operational efficiency and productivity when using the IIoT. The new division will function as a unit of the Yokogawa Marketing Headquarters Business Development Centre, and will keep up with the new technologies being developed every day in the IIoT sector – as well as facilitate close co-ordination with partner companies. The West Coast of the USA is therefore the correct location for this work. The division will be staffed by engineers from Yokogawa who have an extensive knowledge of Yokogawa systems and services, and locally recruited engineers who are conversant in a range of IT fields. The first employees of the division have been located at the local engineering office of a partner company since November 2016, but their own offices are scheduled to open in April 2017. Subsequently, the division will add functions for planning services that use the IIoT and cloud computing, and it is expected that the number of staff will be increased to around 50 over the next five years.

Investment in Bayshore

A parallel press release from Yokogawa explains that there has also been a $900k strategic equity investment into Bayshore Networks, a company established in 2012 that has gained rapid recognition for its expertise in cybersecurity.

Mike Dager, CEO of Bayshore, commented “Yokogawa shares our vision for a secure industrial internet of things enabling new applications that will increase safety, optimize processes, and drive efficiencies. We are proud and excited to partner with such a renowned global leader in industrial controls.”

This Yokogawa investment is part of the recent US$6.6M Series A funding for Bayshore, arranged by Trident Capital Cybersecurity, and its existing angel investors.

Trident Capital

Trident Capital Cybersecurity is a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage companies leveraging emerging technologies in cybersecurity. The firm is a spinout of (or maybe the successor to) Trident Capital, which in 1998 became one of the pioneers of cybersecurity venture capital investing. Renowned as the venture capital firm with the most valuable network of cybersecurity relationships, Trident Capital Cybersecurity also relies on input from a 40–person Cybersecurity Advisory Council, consisting of industry CEOs, customers and former top-level government leaders.

“We led the Series A Investment because Bayshore has been recognized as an innovator and early leader in an emerging cybersecurity segment that is largely untapped to date,” said J. Alberto Yépez, managing director of Trident Capital Cybersecurity. “We are honoured to have Yokogawa join us in supporting the development of the cutting-edge Bayshore technology and business.”

The Trident Capital Cybersecurity website claims 28 cybersecurity investments and 16 successful exits. These have included the Solera acquisition by BlueCoat in 2013, the Qualys IPO in 2012, the acquisition of Accertify by American Express in 2010, the Sygate acquisition by Symantec in 2006 and the Signio acquisition by VeriSign in 2000.

The Bayshore technology

The Bayshore cloud-based software, called the Bayshore IT/OT Gateway, provides IT departments with visibility into OT (Operational Technology) infrastructure, networks, applications, machines and workers.  These OT networks are undergoing transformation and require services traditionally available for IT networks, such as secure remote access and analytics. Bayshore provides immediate value by preventing OT process disruptions and enhancing operational efficiency and business continuity.   The software is distinguished by extremely granular inspection and filtering of network flows – all the way down to machine sensor values – and the ability to provide security enforcement and application segmentation and isolation via flexible, rapidly deployed policies.  The Bayshore policy engine is capable of supporting common industrial protocols and quickly adapting to new and proprietary protocols.

These capabilities are built from the ground up for Industrial Internet and provide Bayshore customers with future-proof, cloud-based solutions that are complementary to legacy hardware-based industrial firewalls. Designed for IT perimeter security, firewalls look for IP addresses and ports, which means they block attacks according to standard Internet parameters.  Because industrial cyber-attacks are typically based on granular machine instructions that alter sensor values, the unique Bayshore technology is well positioned to detect industrial attacks that are often overlooked by other security technologies.

Bayshore has strategic alliances with leading technology companies including AT&T, BAE Systems, Cisco Systems, and VMware. It is currently based in New York, but intends to relocate the HQ to Bethesda, Maryland. No engineering base is quoted as existing in California.

2017 Business plan comes together


Earlier, Yokogawa had announced the completion of the acquisition of Soteica Visual Mesa (SVM), the leading energy management technology provider, which will be integrated into KBC Advanced Technologies (acquired in April 2016) alongside “Data as a Service” (DaaS) provider Industrial Knowledge (acquired December 2015). Satoru Kurosu, executive vice president and head of Yokogawa’s Solutions Service Business Headquarters, commented that these moves delivered on a number of the key objectives of the Yokogawa Transformation 2017 mid-term business plan: “Key strategic objectives of Yokogawa’s Transformation 2017 plan are to expand the solution service business, focus on customers, and co-create new value with customers through innovative technologies and services.”

(c) ProcessingTalk

Yokogawa offers ISA100 vibration sensor

Yokogawa Electric Corporation has announced the development and release of an ISA100 field wireless vibration sensor, which combines a fast data update rate with a long battery life. By providing real-time updates of the vibration levels in plant facilities, the new sensor helps users quickly detect equipment anomalies, enabling predictive maintenance.

Development background

With a field wireless system, plant field devices and analysers are able to communicate wirelessly with host-level monitoring and control systems. The rising need to improve productivity and enhance safety by collecting more data on plant operations is driving the demand for field wireless devices, which can be installed even in difficult to access locations. Field wireless devices have the added advantage of reducing installation costs.

Vibration sensors are used for the condition monitoring and predictive maintenance of plant machinery such as compressors, pumps, and motors. Conventional methods for monitoring vibration include the use of vibration sensors that rely on wired communications with a host system, supplemented by patrols by maintenance staff to collect vibration data. Wireless vibration sensors offer the same capabilities, with a much reduced installation cost and improved versatility: plus with the increasing adoption of ISA100 wireless technology across process plants, these sensors are a simple addition to such standard systems.

Since releasing the world’s first ISA100 Wireless-based field wireless devices and wireless systems, Yokogawa has expanded its line-up of field wireless devices that measure temperature, pressure, flow rate, and the like. This new vibration sensor will meet the  customer requirement for a device that can provide the fast updates on vibration levels needed to detect anomalies at an early stage.

Product features

ISA100 Wireless is a technology that is based on the ISA100.11a standard. It includes ISA100.11a-2011 communications, an application layer with process control industry standard objects, device descriptions and capabilities, a gateway interface, infrared provisioning, and a backbone router.

The principal components of this field wireless vibration sensor are the FN510 field wireless multifunction module, the LN01 piezoelectric type acceleration sensor, and the FN110 field wireless communication module. Via a gateway device, the FN510 uses the ISA100 Wireless communications protocol to exchange data with a host-level system such as the existing plant DCS. The data collected with this vibration sensor enables plant operators and maintenance staff to monitor vibration levels in real time. Both standard industrial and explosion-proof/intrinsically safe sensor types are available, with approvals to FM, CSA (cFM), ATEX and IECEx.


The LN01 sensor is the small item at the bottom of the picture, presumably! The box provides the plant mounted protection for the FN510

The LN01 sensor monitors vibration in the frequency range 10Hz to 10kHz, with an update rate of 10 seconds minimum. Measurements are provided of vibration velocity up to 160mm/sec (6″/ sec), and acceleration up to 300m/sec(1 ft/sec/sec). On site the sensor has a cable connection to the FN510 free-standing field wireless multifunction module, the cable is typically up to 10m long. Battery life can be as long as 10 years, if the update rate is set at once per minute.

The Yokogawa approach to field wireless sensors

Yokogawa says they will continue to expand their lineup of ISA100 Wireless transmitters and other devices such as adaptors to develop best-in-class solutions that provide higher value to customers, and promote the use of field wireless technologies.

Their current ISA100 presentation includes their own pressure, temperature and flow sensors, plus other sensors from third parties, for example the Draeger GasSecure flammable gas detector, and the Spirax Sarco STAPS steam trap monitoring system. They have also previously featured products from the Bently Nevada vibration monitoring systems, which also use ISA100 wireless communications: the ISA100 system does permit the frequency spectrum from such devices to be transmitted to dedicated monitoring analysers. The Yokogawa development of the LN01 accelerometer sensor will effectively complement such systems.


Radio system for simple temperature sensors

Signatrol, the Tewkesbury (UK) based manufacturer of the SpyDaq wireless temperature and humidity data logging system, has been awarded a UK patent for some of the communications aspects of SpYdaq, that make their system reliable, yet simple and cost efficient for pharma and food industry monitoring.

Initially designed to monitor and record temperature and humidity in buildings and storage areas, SpYdaq enables easy compliance with HACCP, EN12830, FDA CFR21 Part 11 and other relevant standards – where careful inviolate monitoring of storage conditions is required for quality reasons and to comply with legislation.

Unlike other similar systems on the market, SpYdaq features a unique high redundancy data package, specifically designed by Signatrol and it is this that has been recognized by the Patents Office and the award of UK Patent number 2479520.

SpYdaq monitors key parameters and transmits them, via a licence-free radio band, to a base station which then makes the data available via bespoke display and analysis software, using either an Intranet or the Internet. Using sensors linked by radio means that installation is quick and easy. The transmitters ‘sleep’ and then wake up at defined intervals to transmit the data. Using this method means that the transmitters are purely transmitters and not transceivers, thus reducing the cost and complexity of the system.

SpyDaq wireless from Signatrol

SpYdaq base station and sensors: this unit uses mobile phone links to the cloud for data monitoring and recording

A potential problem would arise with this approach when two or more transmitters try to transmit at the same time, and signals collide, resulting in loss of data. Signatrol has developed its unique communication system to ensure that in the event of a collision no data will be lost. In fact, for a fully populated system, the likelihood of losing a single reading is once in every 67 years.

Brian Turner, Managing Director Signatrol commented: “I am pleased that, although it has taken quite some time, our unique and innovative SpYdaq data logging system has finally been recognized with the grant of Patent. Many customers are already benefiting from this system and the patent will give added confidence to new adopters”

Indeed the Signatrol website quotes many well known names in the pharmaceutical and food industries as their customers: these are the major targets for Signatrol. Included are the NHS, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, GSK, and in foods Cadbury, Kellogg’s, Premier Foods and British Sugar.

The base stations can collect data from up to 16 transmitters, which can optionally also receive an external input signal, as well as monitor temperature and humidity. There is no info about the radio system employed, or the operating range, but various base stations offer local or intranet alarm set points, and there is also a unit that transmits data to the Signatrol cloud system for further recording and control actions. The base stations start at around GBP500, and the sensors at GBP130.


New ultra-miniature downhole transducer

Over the years you might have read about strain gauge based pressure transducers, and wondered why the major pressure transmitter firms never really went down that simple line for submersible gauge or absolute pressure transmitters. In the UK, Druck created a major business from this technology, and were eventually absorbed into GE, which basically ensured they remained a niche supplier. Another specialist, and niche supplier of such transducers, was Paine Electronics in the US. Originally established in 1951, they moved into strain gauge transducers in around 1968. In 2001 the company was acquired from the original owner, Bill Paine, and moved to Washington: but in 2013 it became employee owned, and proud of that fact.

On the original Paine website it still says “We believe our employees should share in the success of our company in a tangible way”, and this is signed off as “Paine Electronics – an employee owned company”. But with 100+ employees the business was still relatively small, even though it supplied pressure transducers to subsea and satellite/space vehicle applications, as well as to the aerospace industry. So the tangible benefit to employees came fairly quickly, with another change of ownership.

At the end of 2014, in November, Emerson acquired “substantially all of the assets of Paine Electronics”. Reporting into the Emerson Rosemount operation, Paine was seen as “Extending their leadership in providing measurement technologies for the oil and gas industry with expanded upstream capabilities in subsea and downhole drilling operations”. This would also complement the business of a previous Emerson acquisition, Roxar, who supply products used on subsea oil & gas operations. But maybe because it is a small operation, only now do we have some follow-up news, in the shape of a new product release from Emerson, describing a new Paine transducer for downhole pressure and temperature measurement. Size is critical in downhole operations, so this transducer, described as ultra-miniature, has an OD of 0.93cms (or 0.37 inches in US units). It is the Paine 310-38-0050, still labelled like that, and was actually launched on the Paine website back in February 2016.


The Paine 310-38-0050 transducer provides both temperature and pressure measurements in the smallest and most rugged form factor possible. It provides pressure measurements up to 25kpsi (1723 Bar) and withstands and monitors temperatures up to 425F (218C) to cover the wide range of conditions experienced in downhole operating environments, just behind the drill bit. The unit is also built to withstand the corrosive drilling fluids and high vibration levels normal in these applications.



Emerson shows off their latest instruments

The Emerson European Exchange User Meeting in Brussels in April 2016 presented their approach to large automation projects, ‘Project Certainty’, as the main thrust of the conference and press event associated with the meeting. This approach will be reported separately: this view of the instrumentation developments on show was the topic of my column about this event, published in the SA I&C Journal in June 2016. The story is shown below.

The Emerson European Exchange


Maybe half the audience for the first Emerson presentations

The Emerson ‘Global User’s Exchange’, for their customers and potential customers in Europe, Middle East and Africa, was held in Brussels in April. As with all the leading Automation, Control and Instrumentation suppliers in the world, Emerson Process Management has developed this style of single company Expo, because it is difficult to present their whole product range and capability in any commercial, third party exhibition: there would not be enough space. Indeed even in their own dedicated display hall, not all their product capability was on show.

The same is true of the presentations and keynote speeches. The Emerson business is so big, based on large automation projects, that these have to be the main focus of the management comments. The fascinating detailed product and technology developments in temperature, analytical or corrosion instrumentation also on show, did not get top billing, but they were there, in the background.


I have to declare that I need to understand a product or technology to become enthusiastic about it, and in general I have found instrumentation easier to understand than automation software. Emerson has always put an emphasis on instrumentation, and invested in this by developing or acquiring innovative new techniques and companies in the area – moreso than most of the other majors. Then by adding their own knowledge power, they add interfaces and capability, such as HART and Wireless communications, manufacturing technology, housings and mods for industry-wide approvals. So I am an Emerson fan. But because technology grows, it does become harder to understand the way these instruments actually work! For me, a visit to the Emerson Expo is like opening a treasure chest, filled with ideas and enthusiastic people available to explain their latest kit.

Wireless interfaces link everything

The Emerson dedication to WirelessHART communications with all instrumentation, as a standard option, opens up the possibility of adding modern technology sensors into existing plant and processes without the major hassles of adding new cables.

Emerson 12-3-1550855bRosemount temperature sensors have had a wireless capability from ‘Day 1’ of the wireless era: and various companies made such wireless sensors capable of being clamped or strapped to the outside surface of a pipe, to make them totally non-intrusive, and easily re-positioned. The Rosemount engineers have gone one step further, recognizing the measurement errors possible with an external sensor affected by the environment. They have developed X-well technology, available with a clamp for pipe ODs between 0.5” and 48”, which incorporates a layer of thermal insulation 13mm thick and covering a 12” length of the pipe (this is not shown in the picture). All this helps to bring the temperature sensor measurement closer to the actual pipe contents temperature, but in addition the electronics senses the ambient temperature, and uses a thermal conductivity algorithm to make a further correction, before transmitting the data over the wireless link.

WirelessPressureGaugeSimilarly, Rosemount lateral thinking has applied wireless technology and piezo-resistive pressure measurement to the pressure gauge. This modern design of an ancient instrument replaces the original Bourdon tube measurement element with a modern sensor capsule, which uses the battery power to drive a needle around a 270 degree scale on a 4.5” indicator. Then the WirelessHART connection transmits the actual process pressure to a central monitoring system. This new indicator gauge is much safer than the old design – with two layers of process isolation from the gauge body it can withstand a 150x overpressure, and is much less affected by plant vibration.

Emissions Monitoring

One of the most advanced product ranges demonstrated in Brussels came from Cascade Technologies, of Stirling in Scotland, which was acquired for Rosemount Analytical at the end of 2014. Cascade have developed some clever laser based systems for gas analysis, for example for Continuous Emissions Monitoring (CEM) systems, which allows them to measure for multiple gas types simultaneously. In the words of one of the experts they effectively have up to 9 lasers operating at different frequencies in one analyser, enabling monitoring for a similar number of gas concentrations. Similar systems have been used to monitor up to a total of 20 gases simultaneously. Their enthusiastic engineers were saying that following the Emerson involvement in the company they would be launching four new products this year – in fact the next one of these was reported on here, in a review, last month!

Enardo_950_w-bracketAnother essential, but older, safety and emissions monitoring product range has been updated by the addition of an Emerson WirelessHART data link. In 2013, Emerson acquired Enardo, a Tulsa-based manufacturer of mechanically operated pressure and vacuum relief valves, which are used to protect storage tanks for oil/gas, petrochemical and pharma plants – Enardo is now part of the Fisher Regulators business. These valves relieve the tank vapour pressure when the tank is filled, or the temperature rises, or allow air to enter as the tank is emptied, preventing any pressure damage to the tank walls. But safety concerns and modern emission regulations require the valve actions to be monitored: and with no existing wiring installed to transmit such signals, the WirelessHART systems provide a simple solution.

Corrosion monitoring

It was way back in 2009 when Emerson acquired Roxar of Norway, who then specialised in systems for monitoring offshore wells and oil pipelines. The technology involved in the Roxar sensors has developed a long way: they don’t just use ultrasonic detectors to measure the sound of sand and grit hitting the pipe walls! The ER corrosion sensors use a probe with a thin, exposed electrical conductor embedded in an insulator, inserted in the pipe wall. Corrosion of this element changes the resistance of the conducting path, which is monitored. Various designs are available, to adjust the sensitivity of the sensor. LPR probes are Linear Polarisation Resistance probes, which are electrochemical, so require the presence of a conductive liquid, like water, to function. The current response achieved when a small (10-20mV) known polarisation is applied between the electrodes exposed to the liquid, gives the corrosion rate, using electrochemical theory. These Roxar sensors with their CorrLog electronics are now available with WirelessHART communications, making them much easier to apply to any pipework area that is considered at risk from corrosion – and for modern plants using different sources and compositions of feedstock, the corrosion rates can vary significantly from one batch to the next.



The new Process Atrato ultrasonic flowmeter

A new flowmeter for small bore liquid flows has been introduced Titan Enterprises, an enterprising British company, who are a long established manufacturer of liquid flowmeter systems. Their first ultrasonic meter was introduced in around 2010, after a long development programme in co-operation with Prof Mike Sanderson at Cranfield University, and was called the Atrato. This unit was launched for the typical markets served by Titan, of laboratory testing, drinks dispensing, cooling systems, pilot plants, fuel cells, pharmaceutical applications and OEMs – and offered a 200:1 turndown, 1% accurate obstructionless straight through meter with a 4-20mA output. Materials were mainly PEEK and borosilicate glass or stainless steel for the flow tube, but the BSP or NPT male fittings were available in stainless steel. A very clever and high performance flowmeter for flows up to 20 Litres/min.

The Launch in 2010

Regrettably, while having worked with Titan for many years prior to 2010 on their PR and promotion, a high flying expensive agency was brought in to promote the Atrato, so it disappeared off my radar. I should not say much about whether it has been seen by anyone else since then, because I don’t have any info: but why are you reading this?

Now a new launch has been announced by Titan, of the Process Atrato flowmeter: a new version of the basic flowmeter, now ‘packaged for the process and control environment’.

The Titan Atrato for the Process Industry


This unit is built from 316 stainless steel and PEEK, plus an elastomer seal to suit the application, and has the on-board electronics sealed to IP65. From the photo you can see that the threads into the stainless steel process connection (at the top of the flowmeter) are female. The lower screw thread is for an M12 four pin electrical connector. The unit is suitable for 65 Celcius and 25 bar process conditions: the non-process Atrato can operate up to 110C if the electronics is installed remotely, so presumably this might be a future development. Flow range covered is 2mL/min to 15 Litres/min, using four flowtube sizes.

Each of the four models covering the different flow ranges is configured to offer the same pre-set ‘K-factor’, which is quoted to assist OEM use and interchangeability: but it also highlights that the electronic output available on these “process units” is a PNP and an alternative NPN pulse train, quoted as a ‘frequency’ output. Presumably this relates back to the pulse output style as was provided by the other Titan turbine and positive displacement flowmeter sensors. A separate power supply, from 8-24VDC, is used to power the unit.

A few criticisms

The other surprise for me was that the meter is pictured, and obviously intended for installation, ‘upside down’, with the electrical connections and housing below the flow line. When this Process Atrato is really an equivalent to a thermal mass style gas flowmeter application, but on liquids, you would think it would be sensible to have it looking similar to these other, well-known gas flow devices. The reason for this cannot be that it needs to allow entrained air to escape, as the flow tube is just a straight tube, with no complicated connections which might trap anything.

For the engineers who can see through these confusion factors, the device is a very effective flowmeter, 200:1 turndown, +/-1% accuracy over 2-100% of range, while working with viscous as well as non-viscous fluids – with the standard Atrato features of linearity, no moving parts and fast response time. Plus the PR says it will offer a ‘reduced cost of ownership’, but does not specify what this is compared with…..surely the point is that there is not much else on offer to provide this performance, except maybe a micro-Coriolis meter.

If Only….

The pity is, ever since launching the Bestobell Doppler flowmeter in 1976, and the Platon Kat in 1998, I’ve been looking forward to being involved in the launch a decent ultrasonic flowmeter for clean liquid process applications…..