Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Clash of the titans

June 12, 2009
By Alison Dunn

Wireless security has the power to revolutionize manufacturing–but only if we stop fighting long enough to agree on an industry standard

It was getting a bit too hot to handle. A group of industry experts was assembled in a room at Houston’s Reliant Center on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2007. The meeting, part of ISA’s Expo 2007, had one question to answer: Can the existing WirelessHART standard fit into ISA’s new ISA100 Wireless for Industrial Automation Standard? For those involved in the discussion, finding the answer wasn’t going to be easy.

For four hours, the group discussed the differences and commonalities between the WirelessHART standard and the draft of the ISA100 standard. The industry’s best and brightest engineers were on hand for the debate, which grew more heated as the hours passed.

By Wednesday morning, though, it felt as though someone had turned on the air conditioning. The heated argument seemed to be cooling. That day’s edition of InTech’s Expo Exchange, the official daily newspaper of the ISA Expo, proclaimed a “Wireless compromise in the making.” The article by Nicholas Sheble claimed that “After four hours of talks, the denouement was WirelessHART will be ‘accommodated’ and part of the standard.”


The industry breathed a sigh of relief. The fight was over.

Or was it?

As it turns out, the article may have jumped the gun a bit in proclaiming a compromise.

“That was a little bit of misinformation that was spread,” says Dick Caro, principal of CMC Associates and a member of the ISA100 committee.
Six months after the meeting in Houston, tempers are still flaring and the issue is bubbling over into the marketplace. Reminiscent of the old Fieldbus wars, the battle between WirelessHART and ISA100 is just getting started.

On one side is the HART Communication Foundation’s WirelessHART standard. Proponents of WirelessHART want to see it integrated into the ISA100 standard – or for it to become the industry-dominant standard.

On the other side is the yet-to-be published ISA100 standard. Supporters of ISA100 want the standard to become the all-encompassing industry-accepted standard for wireless devices.

Caught in the middle of this clash of the titans are today’s manufacturers. Wireless technology has the power to revolutionize manufacturing as we know it, but without an agreed-upon industry standard, those wireless products have been delayed getting to market. And right now, the only thing the two sides can agree on is the fact they can’t agree.

A study by the ARC Advisory Group in April found that the worldwide market for wireless technology in manufacturing is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 32 per cent over the next four years to more than US$1.1 billion.

Clearly, wireless is the wave of the future for manufacturing. Wireless applications will enable new and better ways of operating manufacturing plants, particularly in process manufacturing. The technology offers a more cost-effective means of monitoring equipment and production processes than traditional wired technologies, enabling the user to make real-time decisions to both optimize production and discover maintenance issues before they become a problem.

“Wireless technology is the next inflection point,” says Dave Kaufman, a business development director with Honeywell Process Solutions. “You’ve heard that before, when the microprocessor was an inflection point in the industry. We went from this pneumatic, semi-analog kind of world into this digital world and it transformed what we do in the manufacturing facility. Wireless is going to do that now.”

But that’s assuming those wireless devices even make it to the market. Without an agreed-upon industry standard to ensure the interoperability of wireless devices, many end-users are unable to create wireless networks in their plants.

Walt Boyes, editor in chief of U.S.-based Control magazine, sounded off in a recent blog posting about the need for a wireless standard – any standard. He wrote: “the industry needs direction, best practices, engineering documentation and all of the infrastructure to begin to design, specify, procure, install, start up and commission wireless devices.”

That need for a standard is what motivated both the HART Foundation and ISA to work on writing their own. And until the issue is settled, many people are reluctant to invest in new wireless technology.

“There’s a degree [of people] waiting [for a standard],” says Dan Sexton, a member of the ISA100 committee. “There are a lot of different wireless technologies out there and a lot of people providing it, but in general, end users may be waiting for a standard to come out so they have some feeling of assurance that there’s a product that works.”

Without a standard, companies are afraid they will invest money in the wrong wireless technology and have to re-invest again later to choose the right side. Much like the old VHS/Beta wars in the 1980s, no one wants to buy the wrong device – which is why they are waiting for an agreed-upon industry standard.

On Sept. 7, 2007, the HART Communication Foundation (HCF) officially released its HART 7 Specification, which included WirelessHART. In the news release sent out at that time, the foundation billed the standard as the “first open wireless communication standard specifically designed for process measurement and control applications.”

A number of HCF member companies developed the standard, including ABB, Emerson Process Management, Endress+Hauser, Honeywell, Phoenix Contact, Siemens and Yokogawa.

But even as HCF released the standard, all was not well. Despite Honeywell’s participation in both the HCF and in developing the standard, on Sept. 5, 2007, Jack Bolick, president of Honeywell Process Solutions, sent out a letter to a number of industry publications opposing WirelessHART.

In the letter, Bolick said the company intended to vote “no” to the standard at an HCF board meeting, opposing the HART 7.0 specification for inclusion of WirelessHART. Instead, Bolick urged the HCF to consider adopting the ISA100 standard, which was still in development.

“Honeywell is concerned the industry is heading down a path that creates confusion and slows innovation through the adoption of two industrial wireless protocols,” Bolick wrote in his letter. “The industry is inevitably comparing the recently affirmed ISA100 Principles of Operation with the proposed WirelessHART specifications. The most striking difference is that while WirelessHART is designed to support the HART protocol only, the ISA100 standard is designed to support multiple protocols, including HART.”

The next day, on Sept. 6, Ron Helson, executive director of HCF, fired back in his own letter to U.S.-based publication Control Engineering. “The Sept. 5 letter to the editor from Honeywell’s Jack Bolick was a surprise and disappointment to the HART Communications Foundation (HCF),” Helson wrote. “The open process used to create this enhanced HART Standard began more than two years ago with the support of both the Board and the Membership. This process engaged the brightest minds from the leading companies in our industry, including Honeywell, and produced a wireless communication standard that is simple, reliable and secure, meeting the needs of users and the process automation industry.”

When it came down to it, the five voting members of the HCF board of directors – ABB, Emerson, Endress+Hauser, Honeywell and Siemens – voted on the standard on Sept. 7. The vote passed 4:1. Honeywell was the lone dissenter.

A few weeks later, it looked as though there might be a compromise in the making. On Sept. 21, HCF issued a press release saying it would collaborate with ISA to “collaborate and investigate opportunities to incorporate WirelessHART into the work of the [ISA100] Committee.”

At the time, HCF granted ISA a copyright license to access the HART Protocol Specification, including WirelessHART. Likewise, ISA granted a copyright license to HCF allowing access to all ISA100 documents.

But according to Dick Caro, it was too little, too late.

“If WirelessHART had been done a year earlier and had been offered to ISA100 a year earlier, it would have been very easy to make some minor changes so it could be a proper subset of what eventually became the part of ISA100 used for control,” Caro says. “In other words, it could have very easily been phase one of ISA100. But it wasn’t done in time. As a matter of fact, it was done so very late that for us to go back and create a phase one and a phase two within the standard would just make everything later.”

Caro says that despite the compromise, when the ISA100 committee reviewed WirelessHART technically, it arrived at the conclusion that while WirelessHART was fine for data acquisition and monitoring purposes, it would not be effective for process control.

“WirelessHART, for the purposes of just data acquisition, is a perfectly adequate standard,” Caro says. “If all we ever intended to do with ISA100 is to implement monitoring – that is, to never include the control aspect – then WirelessHART would be a perfectly good base. But that’s not the case. ISA100 is there to do process control.”

Bob Karschnia, vice president, wireless for Emerson Process Management, disagrees. He says Emerson has been testing and shipping pre-WirelessHART products for a couple of years, with the understanding that users could easily migrate to the standard once it passed. He adds that many of those products are working in control applications today.

“I know people that are using [pre-WirelessHART-compliant devices] for control,” he says. “If you count the field trials, some of these control applications have been installed for well over three years. [The pre-WirelessHART-compliant devices] work fine for control.

“It’s unfortunate that it has come to this, because we’re creating a situation where you’re going to have competing standards that basically do the exact same thing,” Karschnia adds. “One of them is saying, ‘I’m better than the other,’ but in reality, they both provide the same functionality.”

If the technology is basically the same, what is all the fighting about? According to noted industry expert Jim Pinto, it’s nothing more than a marketing ploy to gain leadership of the wireless device marketplace.

In October, 2007, just after the ISA Expo, Pinto published “The Industrial Wireless Wars,” on the U.S.-based website. He cut to the chase about the controversy.

By getting pre-WirelessHART products out in the marketplace, Emerson was first out of the gate. “The approval of WirelessHART now makes it easy for them to cement their lead, leaving Honeywell to protest about how ISA100 will provide better links to more protocols,” Pinto wrote in the article.

“Emerson remains committed to working on ISA100, and intends to make sure WirelessHART technology is included in that standard – when it is eventually approved,” he wrote. “Emerson has the most to gain if the standard emerges today; Honeywell has the most to lose if WirelessHART gains market traction. That is simply the basis of their two opposing positions.”

The question then becomes: who will get their products to market first? Since ISA100 has yet to be finished and passed, some believe WirelessHART products will have the edge.

Bob Karschnia says Emerson has already taken orders for the products, and says the first batch should be shipping out to customers in May.

“Our products tend to have an eight to 12 week lead time,” he says. “If you order it today, you will get it eight weeks from now. That’s just a standard lead time, because it takes us that long to manufacture sensors.”

But while Emerson might be first out of the gate with WirelessHART products, Dick Caro says he doesn’t expect WirelessHART products to make it to market until late 2008 – including Emerson products.

“I went to the Emerson luncheon that was given in February at the ARC Forum in Orlando, and they were giving a demonstration on a product called the thumb. Somebody at that time said, ‘When can I actually buy one and install it in my plant?’ That was a really good question,” Caro says.

“The marketing people promised that the release on that product – meaning sales announcement – will occur sometime in three or four months. This was in February, so in May or June, they will make an announcement that they have released the product, including a price and a delivery date. Now the question is: when are they going to ship it?” Caro adds. (Emerson, in fact, announced the release of the first WirelessHART products – its Smart Wireless range of pressure, flow, level, temperature and vibration transmitters and gateways – on March 14, 2008.)

Still, despite the Emerson products available on the market, at press time it appeared no other manufacturers would have anything available until late 2008. But what about ISA100 products?

In late March, ISA sent out a release saying the ISA100 Wireless Compliance Institute demonstrated prototype ISA100.11a wireless standard-based products at the 2008 International Industrial Wireless Conference in Chongqing, China.

The demonstration purportedly used prototype ISA100.11a technologies from General Electric, Honeywell and Nivis that were based on the current ISA100.11a draft standard.

“The Wireless Compliance Institute really struggled with this one. It’s dated March 31, so that it would not be dated April 1, [April Fool’s Day],” says Caro. “It was a demonstration of the ISA100 pre-standard protocol.”

With the standard still under revision and not passed, it’s impossible to tell when products will make it to market. “ISA100 is a standard that doesn’t exist, yet there are manufacturers that say they’ve already got ISA100 devices,” says Ed Ladd, a director with the HART Communications Foundation. “It could be another year and a half or two years before you see products. But that doesn’t stop people from saying their devices are ISA100.”

Much like Emerson had pre-WirelessHART devices on the market, however, Dick Caro says the current ISA100 devices being demonstrated are simply pre-compliant. “It’s a matter of software,” he says. “They worked on doing the software based on parts of the standard that were already agreed to.” And, again like the Emerson products, Caro says the pre-compliant ISA products will be easy to migrate once the standard is passed – and he expects ISA100 products to be shipped by the end of 2008.

“Many of the vendors involved with ISA100 say they will have product shipping before the end of this year,” Caro says. (The ISA100 standard’s current schedule says it should be passed sometime in November, 2008.) “Those are the same words you heard for WirelessHART. I believe that the competition is serious enough that WirelessHART will not have an opportunity to establish a firm leadership position in the marketplace.”

In the end, the so-called “wireless wars” may be fought out in the marketplace, where the end-users will vote with their dollars.

“The picture is not at all clear yet,” says Dick Caro. “You can’t predict the winner because you can’t clearly see the technology. Clouding it all is that the commercial positions of the suppliers will affect the outcome.”

Will the two sides eventually come together in a compromise? In early April, a group led by Emerson, Siemens, Chevron, Shell and Procter and Gamble put forth yet another motion to make WirelessHART part of an approved ISA standard. Whether the sides will be able to achieve that compromise remains to be seen.

“It would be nirvana if the companies which are supporting WirelessHART would lend more support to ISA100,” says Dan Sexton. “I think the whole marketplace would be better for it.”

Alison Dunn is the acting editor of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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