Discrete manufacturers in such industries as automotive, aerospace, high-tech and industrial machinery are keeping a close watch on recent wireless developments in the process industries with the idea of applying the technology to their own purposes. That scenario may indeed play out, but it could be quite a few years off in the distance, according to a recent study from analyst firm ARC Advisory Group.
A wireless version of the HART protocol for process sensors and the ISA 100 initiative for wireless process sensing -- two recent developments within the process industry -- have also caught the eye of discrete manufacturers, but it won't be easy for them to take advantage of the technology.
"While the business drivers are in place, including wireless' status as 'the ultimate field bus' from the perspective of wiring reduction, the lag in technology and standards development suitable to meet discrete industry requirements will contribute to an ongoing fissure in growth prospects for discrete vs. process industries over the next five years," predicts Chantal Polsonetti, vice president at ARC. "Divergent issues such as higher speed discrete processes that cannot tolerate the latency times of current wireless communications and the longer potential time-line for standardization at the sensor/actuator level are just a few of the potential detractors to potential growth."
ARC expects the worldwide market for wireless devices in discrete manufacturing to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.2% over the next five years, climbing from $368 million in 2007 to over $780 million in 2012 (see chart at the bottom).
Discrete manufacturers are particularly keen on the idea of a cable-free interface for control and data acquisition applications, as wireless technology can help lower engineering costs, enable remote and mobile operations, add flexibility, and provide cable-free access and operation, according to ARC.
Wireless technology can also bring powerful incremental control and monitoring capabilities to a process, serving production data up to enterprise applications and enabling ongoing improvements in productivity and operational performance. For automation applications, wireless can help reduce cable failure in moving equipment while enabling the addition and monitoring of incremental I/O and devices.