Within five years, process manufacturers will be spending more than $1 billion per year on wireless devices and equipment, according to a study from analyst firm ARC Advisory Group. That represents an annual growth rate of 32% through 2012.
During that period, the market will shift toward new standardized wireless sensing products and hardened wireless local area networks (LANs). Deployment of wireless in continuous process manufacturing industries (e.g., chemicals, oil & gas, oil refining, electric power, mining & metals) has lagged discrete manufacturing industries, such as automotive and aerospace, because process plants are often larger and located mainly outdoors, and because the presence of dangerous and potentially explosive materials mandates use of equipment carrying special certifications.
"Manufacturers in the process industries know that they need better visibility into operations that occur inside their own fence," says Harry Forbes, senior analyst at ARC. "Our end user research indicates that manufacturers believe better visibility has huge potential value in the form of more consistent use of best practices, higher plant utilization and improved operational safety."
Wireless process sensing is expected to be the fastest growing market segment. Although it accounts for only a small portion of the total market today, it will become the largest segment during the next five years, ARC predicts, thanks to the introduction of wireless sensing products that comply with wireless versions of industrial standards. The driving force for wireless process sensing is its dramatically lower installation cost, which ARC believes will cause the normal change-averse process industries to use it wherever they can, leading to more rapid adoption.
The adoption of wireless LANs will be accelerated by new access point products that can safely be installed in the hazardous environments that may be present in such plants.
The longer range and clearer signals of future wireless standards will also make them attractive to process manufacturers.