Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Industrial standards both drive and inhibit wireless potential in process manufacturing

April 27, 2012
By ARC Advisory Group

The prospect of adding wireless devices to the process automation architecture is a compelling one from the perspective of tangible business benefits and incremental operational improvements. Availability of robust industrial wireless network protocols, such as WirelessHART and ISA100.11a, for use with IEEE standard technology makes the prospect even more attractive relative to past proprietary, often standalone wireless implementations. This potential is somewhat offset, however, by competition between these standards that leads customers to fear that wireless is emerging as the next platform for the automation fieldbus wars.

“The potential market for wireless devices is one of the closest-watched segments in process automation. Still served largely by proprietary solutions, the advent of robust industrial wireless standards has captured the attention of end users, OEMs and system integrators alike. Increased availability of products and solutions that support industrial wireless standards will help spur double-digit market growth due to the tangible business benefits that can be achieved through use of wireless instrumentation,” says ARC vice-president Chantal Polsonetti, the principal author of ARC’s “Wireless Devices in Process Manufacturing” report.

From standalone proprietary to standard and integrated

As the WirelessHART and ISA100.11a standards gain footholds at the sensor level, the majority of the process wireless market will gravitate away from legacy proprietary solutions that continued to account for a large share of the 2011 market. Concurrent with this shift, a migration away from standalone point-to-point installations will occur in favour of mesh-based, inherently redundant device-level solutions that interface to a Wi-Fi-based plant or facility backbone.


Tighter integration of wireless implementations with the overall automation scheme is central to this migration. The addition of incremental measurement points due to availability of wireless devices is attractive, but the ability to integrate, analyse and act upon these additional measurements is reliant on integration with the control or monitoring system.

Increased product availability as demand increases

Availability of industrial wireless standards at the device level is leading to the mainstreaming of wireless devices and consequently higher supplier participation. The relatively recent introduction and certification of the industrial standards means that many products are still in the developmental pipeline. ARC expects the supplier landscape to expand dramatically over the next decade as numerous sensor, transmitter, actuator and other device-level product suppliers introduce wireless offerings.

Growth geographies reflect leading adopter industries

Growth in wireless implementations by geography is largely driven by the presence of the leading adopter industries and/or the RF regulatory landscape. Availability of greenfield projects versus add-ons will also impact the relative size of the market by geography.

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