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Monitoring and controlling of manufacturing processes need wireless instruments instead of the wired support that exists in most facilities today. In the quest to increase productivity, industry leaders are focusing on ways to improve their operating capabilities while maintaining high quality and low cost.

The current advances in the field of instrumentation is a result of amalgamation of different domains such as Electrical, Mechanical, IT, Communications, Software, etc. Industry 4.0 is powered by advancements in interconnectivity, automation, machine learning and real-time data. The current focus is on smart manufacturing, digital instrumentation, advanced analytics and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Use of networked production, interconnections, data and information exchange across the industrial enterprise are growing to a sizeable extent, making integration, cybersecurity and communication very important.

New technologies

Edge computing, edge sensors, wireless instrument system design and sonar flowmeters, etc. are a few examples of advances in the area of instrumentation.

  • The emergence of edge computing is expected to play a vital role in the field of instrumentation. It has the potential to address the concerns related to response time, battery life, cost of bandwidth, data security and privacy. It enables data to be processed closer to where it is created (i.e. motors, pumps, generators, or other sensors), reducing the need to transfer data back and forth between the cloud. It combines the concepts of wireless sensor networks, intelligent and context-aware networks and smart objects in the context of human computer interaction. With the amount of annual data generated expected to grow from 40 zettabytes in 2019 to 175 zettabytes in 2025, the global edge computing market is estimated to reach $34B by 2023. Edge sensors used in field instrumentations can alert the appropriate personnel via SMS, tweet or email.
  • SONARtrac® Technology, used in sonar flow meters, uses a patented technology based on sonar array processing for measuring the velocity of turbulent eddies as they convect past an array of sensors.
  • Wireless instrumentation is a very promising area where companies are working on wireless transmitters, wireless sensor networks, etc. while following ISA100 guidelines from ISA (The Instrumentation, Systems, Automation Society) Wireless HART from the FieldComm Group. Companies working in this field are Texas Instruments (SimpleLink™ Solutions), ABB, Emerson, Flow Control, Honeywell (SmartLine wireless transmitter) Schneider Electric (Accutech - Battery-powered wireless sensor networks), etc.
Wireless sensor networks / Connectivity technology / Industrial connections

Different topologies are used in wireless design as discussed below:

  • Backbone networks interconnect various pieces of network (Wi-Fi mesh, LTE digital umbrella, or a point-to-point solution) enabling information exchange between different LANs or subnetworks.
  • In Star to Backbone configurations, the backbone is just one switch that connects the LANs.
  • Device Mesh Network supports a group of devices.
  • In peer-to-peer network, a few mesh devices are configured to communicate directly, thereby providing point-to-point performance that is measured in seconds.

The gateway will enable communication between the devices through various wireless topologies. An interesting US Patent from Honeywell (US7936878B2) deals with secure wireless instrumentation network systems for sharing secret keying information. The aim of the invention is to make the wireless instrumentation communications...

reliable enough in an industrial setting so that existing wired instrumentation may be replaced by wireless instrumentation. The system has a secure trust center providing a birth key (BK) via a protected link to a non-member wireless device. The device uses the key to provide a secure link e.g. internet virtual private network (VPN) connection, which is used to send a request for membership to the center. The center authenticates the request for membership, and considers the non-member device to be a member wireless device. The secure link is cryptographically protected using a unique cryptographic key from the center that maintains a record of cryptographic keys.

Wireless instrumentation technologies

A list of prevailing wireless technologies such as protocols, international standards and also customized solutions for specific domains is presented below.

Most recent patent applications
  • Mitsubishi Electric Corp has filed patent US20190004492A1 disclosing Instrumentation control system for a nuclear power plant. It comprises control logic units implemented within input/output modules and performs various control calculations for field devices. The invention reduces the cable amount needed for connecting input/output module and the calculation processing device. During installation of the field devices, as the degree of freedom on the actual site increases, the amount of cable reduces. The compactification of the entire system is achieved.
  • Siemens AG has filed three patents recently, dealing with Pressure Sensor Assembly. EP3384263A1 deals with axial displacement detection units that are arranged on the outside of a tube; US20180252605A1 has a detecting unit that is provided for detecting axial displacement of a membrane dependent on pressure to-be measured; and Patent US20180245999A1 a pressure-acted membrane secured at the inner side wall of the pipe, and a detecting unit for detecting torsion of the joint dependent on deformation of the membrane used in process instrumentation.
  • Siemens has also filed US20180238722A1, a through-flow measurement arrangement that operates in accordance with a differential pressure method. The structure of the flow-measuring arrangement can be simplified. The strain sensor on the peripheral side of the tube is easily accessible as well as easily assembled, and arranged contactable. The flow measuring arrangement can be produced easily with high and reproducible accuracy, and is also robust.
  • Korean Maintenance and Control Co. Ltd has active patents in wireless instrumentation.
    • Patent KR1136920B1 discloses a system for wireless measurement of slight vibration structure using active sensor modules. The system has an active sensor module measuring micro-tremor of a micro-tremor structure and extracting a native mode shape of the structure. A set of wireless data loggers wirelessly transmits data measured from the sensor module. A wireless data receiver receives the data transmitted through the loggers. The sensor module comprises a data analysis part for comparing the data with an existing intrinsic value and a native mode. The analysis part analyzes the data, extracts the intrinsic value and the native mode, and evaluates aging and deformation of the structure.
    • KR792545B1 discloses a multi-channel wireless instrumentation system for use in an industry development construction and an urban community construction. It has a sensor module-driving sensor and a wireless receiver receiving data from the logger, analyzing data, storing and managing information.
    • KR687209B1 discloses a measurement system of civil engineering structure using wireless transmission technology, which reduces measurement cost by transmitting a sensed signal in a wireless manner.
  • MORU Engg Corp Ltd’s patent (WO2018074721A1) relates to wireless vibration measurement systems. It eliminates the inconvenience of the existing wired system, and is applicable to a structure having a shape in which a wired cable installation is difficult or a moving body. The functional disorder possibility is determined and probability forward is provided through the vibration pattern.
  • AJOU University in S.Korea has filed patents in the field of wireless instrumentation. KR1872744B1 provides measuring devices related to wireless instrumentation systems. By measuring the current or the voltage using the electromagnetic signal transmitted from the wireless reader, the measuring device arranged at the measurement target stage is implemented without a separate power source. The electromagnetic signal is wirelessly exchanged between the measuring device and the wireless reader, such that a current or voltage to be measured is easily confirmed in a wireless reader separated from the measuring device.
Activities of new players

Field Instrumentation being a highly capital and infrastructure-intensive area, there are no start-ups engaged in research. However, there are a number of new players who have entered the market with their newly developed products.

  • Swabian Instruments GmbH, a spin-off from the Physics Department at the University of Stuttgart, is headquartered in Schwieberdingen, Germany. Founded in 2016 by Helmut Fedder and Michael Schlagmüller, the company designs and manufactures data acquisition and signal generation systems for research and industry. The “Time Tagger Series” of Swabian Instruments is emerging as one of the most powerful data acquisition tools used by the physics research community from quantum optics to biophysics.
  • TehRu LLC, founded in 2016, is already one of the largest suppliers of automation for engineering systems in the field of heating. It is an official representative of the trademark "TECH Sterowniki" in the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus. It provides modern, reliable and safe equipment used in the automation of modern heating systems.
  • Recently, Advantech, Behr Technologies (BTI), Hitachi Solutions America and Microsoft announced that they would be collaborating on delivering wireless communication solutions for private industrial internet of things (IIoT) networks. It provides end-to-end wireless gateway solutions to ensure connectivity with sensors for production-level industrial and commercial applications.
  • I4Gen (Insight through the Integration of Information for Intelligent Generation), an electric power research institute-led collaborative utility project, is looking into new technologies enabling digital connection of assets and optimized plant operations and maintenance.
  • China Techenergy Co. Ltd and China General Nuclear Power Corporation seem to have collaborated resulting in a patent for nuclear power plant applications. It solves the technical problem created by the analog controller measuring the current reactor core temperature in the water-level monitoring system by replacing an analog control device with a digital control device. The digital control device includes a signal condition layer (for receiving the signal of core temperature of water level collection in the worksite, and the signal to carry out conditioning and/ or isolation processing), signal input and output layer (arranged to receive the signal from the signal condition layer input), data analysis layer (receiving the signal) and communication layers (receiving the signal of the data analysis layer).
  • Dragos, a Cybersecurity firm and General Electric (GE) recently published three white papers describing the role of sensors in providing increased visibility into process, data integration and analysis.

High speed

  • Collecting large number of high speed signals without loss of data is one of the challenges in modern instrumentation.
  • Faster measurement speeds also mean that there must be sufficient room to accumulate the data gathered in the memory.
    • Examples: - Programmable Application Controllers (PAC), Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) and Data Loggers’ speeds are low.

Reduced Size

  • Miniaturized instruments can be more easily embedded in large industrial systems, and instruments designed for medical applications must be small enough to reduce the physical size and weight of a patient-worn device.
    • Examples: - Small satellites and subsystems, sensors and actuators, and MEMS.

Low Power Consumption

  • Without eliminating functions or increasing amplifier requirements, new devices are expected to have reduced power consumption compared to their predecessors.
    • Examples: - EcoStruxure™ Power Advisor and EcoStruxure™ Smart Metering Advisor

Greater Immunity to Environmental Conditions

  • ABB is a leader in this category, providing a few products like valve control equipment for harsh environments, pressure sensors and temperature sensors used in aggressive or explosive liquids or gases.
  • Portable instruments, which now have a mandatory requirement of a network-connected user interface (UI), also may well be subjected to a duty cycle that includes temperature extremes as well as moisture and physical stress.
    • Examples: - Portable instruments, valve control equipments by ABB

Increased System Reliability & Reduced Downtime

  • A failed electronics assembly on a drill operating offshore, for example, can take more than a day to retrieve and replace, during which time it holds up the operation of a costly deep-water rig.
    • Examples: - Electronics modules such as microprocessors, HART, IoT, etc.
Companies working in the space

Companies working in the area of field instrumentation

  • Siemens:Siemens Process Instrumentation offers innovative, single-source measurement solutions to increase plant efficiency and enhance product quality.
  • Yokogawa Electric: Yokogawa wireless systems provide process measurements that were previously too difficult or uneconomical to implement. It offers Wireless Differential Pressure/Pressure Transmitters, Wireless Temperature Transmitters, Wireless Adapter and Wireless Infrastructure (IoT Enabled).
  • Mitsubishi Electric:Offers a vast range of automation and processing technologies, including controllers, drive products, power distribution and control products, electrical discharge machines, electron beam machines, laser processing machines, computerized numerical controllers and industrial robots.
  • Metso:Provides a new approach for efficient valve instrumentation. Pneumatic and/or electro-pneumatic instrumentation components are always needed in automated process valves actuated by pneumatic actuators to enhance the specific functionalities required for each application. These components are typically mounted all around the actuator.
  • Honeywell: Honeywell's instrumentation devices measure critical process parameters such as pressure, temperature, pH/ORP, dissolved oxygen and conductivity in a wide variety of industrial applications for reliable process monitoring and control.
  • Omron: Omron industrial automation helps manufacturers to operate with greater productivity and streamlined efficiency.
  • ABB: ABB Measurement & Analytics simplifies selection, purchasing, installation, operation, and ownership of instrumentation and analyzers.
  • Rockwell Automation: Offers services in the area of model predictive control and optimization, modern distributed control systems, deployment of resilient ethernet architecture and plant virtualization, etc.
  • Emerson Electric: Has the broadest range of measurement and analytical technologies for process clarity and insight.
  • Schneider Electric: Provides Accutech (battery powered wireless sensor network), process parameter devices (pressure, flow and level, etc.) and control systems (valve positioners, pneumatic instruments, etc.).

Digital process instrumentation will be considered as a vital source of data in the near future. It will provide data that is needed to improve the quality and productivity of the process plant. Wireless instrumentation will certainly have a significant role in the market in the next few years. The measuring instruments and control elements should be properly selected, especially with regard to reliability. End users should concentrate on the integration of the business layer and the operational layer of their facility. Field Instrumentation is poised to become the backbone of process plants, and is expected to reach USD 22.27 Billion by 2025.

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