Wireless capabilities have launched a whole new platform for monitoring and control of equipment and processes. It has many advantages and benefits over conventional wire and fiber systems. Already many wireless control systems are being used and growing and expanding every day. The advantages are too enticing to go any other way.
One of the greatest benefits is the lack of wire and fiber connections. To run these in initial and then to change them later is very costly. One of the major costs is the protective conduit and raceways needed to protect them. Another is the cost of the wire and fiber with its shielding and other expensive components. Any break in the system is expensive to correct and many redundant runs to compensate for it also have a cost. A major costly component is the labor cost of installing the conduit and cable runs as well as the wiring connection of each circuit to make the system operative. The use of a good wireless system eliminates this high cost by eliminating its need all together.
Another advantage and benefit is that a wireless system has easier and less costly system alteration capability. We can add or include other capabilities to the current system with just a few added devices without tearing a building or system apart and re-assembling it. Change is a lot cheaper and its change we usually need as we grow or expand our operations.
When it comes to environmental, wireless systems have less impact on nature and the other natural things people need to survive or just to enjoy. When you have a wired system, as with buildings and other complexes, you have to include protective raceway which is installed during the construction process. This may lead to digging destructive ditches and other environmentally destructive actions. These conduits have to protect also from rodents and animals destroying the system from knowing the wires. One squirrel could bring the whole network down. Protective raceways, when going over a ravine or river can be very expensive and environmentally costly. Another advantage environmentally is the reduction of toxic elements that are part of cable, fiber and the shielding and other elements such as pulling compounds used for lubrication. I am sure people would not look favorably of tearing up the Grand Canyon or other natural wonder.
With monitoring of systems covering large geographic areas such as pipe lines, well water and irrigation systems as well as other remotely situated operations the reduction in gas and labor cost of physically going out to check the status or condition is great. Eliminating these cost can lead to better competitive positions. The lower cost may lead to lower tax burdens in municipal and other governmental areas. Along with the gas and labor cost is the vehicle and insurance cost.
Controlling components to the system, is a lot more favorable when being able to control from a distance than to commute to the site to change control parameters. It also adds to the ability to get alarms for unwanted conditions in the equipment such as overheating, low fuels levels or shut downs. We can also be able to retrieve data concerning the need of maintenance which eliminates costly repairs and replacements.
Another area of benefit is when the equipment is portable in nature such as, generators, mining, well drilling and agricultural fertilizing and watering or scientific monitoring equipment doing surveillance on conditions for analysis. A wireless monitoring and control system can be moved as needed.
An almost intangible benefit is in the area of security and safety. As soon as an unsafe condition in sensed, the needed alerts and alarms can be activated including reverse 911 systems and voice and text messaging directly to our cell phones. This can also involve intruder alerts at homes, offices and schools.
Being able to track the location of vehicles and transit, we can see when they go off course or be able to modify their usage for maximum benefit by adjusting timing and how they are used.
There are many types of wireless methods. These include short-range WI-FI, Blue Tooth and ZigBEE. Most wireless runs on radio waves but some run on infrared or microwave. These also require line of sight capabilities but with the use of mess networking and repeaters lack of it can be overcome.
The introduction of the cell phone system a network the size of the world is possible and can include satellite communications in the scheme of things. These networks have GSM (Global System for Mobile communications). There are devices that can communicate on GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) which is the cell networks 2G, 2.5G, 3G and now 4G. Each subsequent G corresponds to advancement in the generation of the cell business. These now are used in many smart phones. This technology is making it possible to communicate to a mobile entity an expression of a condition and then communicate a command to the original sending device which will direct the movements of an actuator.
As mentioned above there are many application for use or wireless devices and networks. We can start with our homes. We can monitor activity such as heating and air conditioning, electrical use, and linked in with fire and intrusion alarms we can monitor many things going on at home while we are not there. It is a good thing to be able to come home without running into a burglary in process. Also do to a change of events you might be coming home latter and choose to start the heating system or air conditioning at a later time. Another possibility would be to close window blinds do to a change of sunlight available. In conjunction with cameras you can see what is going on in your home while not being there. There is even a system that will monitor your automobile and transfer control to your cell phone. Homes were one of the first areas wireless control was introduced with the garage door openers many years ago.
We will now shift our focus to the office environment, where many of the same situations as home needs exist. The basic things we need to optimize is energy and labor usage. By reducing both we can lower overhead costs. Environmental conditions use power to either generate needed heat or air conditioning. By monitoring the conditions actually needed and optimizing the time we use it can contribute to great savings. Why heat or cool rooms, if no one is in them nor will be for a while? Also when peak demand is in play, the energy used cost at that time is a lot higher that the same usage when off-peak in play. This is where careful measuring and timing may be profitable. When it comes to lighting and computers best not have on when not needed, especially in most cases on weekends. Now when it comes to applying our devices and system we need to monitor all the conditions that reflect in the decision process. We need to know if anyone is there, what time the events are needed and what needs to be controlled. To channel the information in the correct direction we use BAC (Building Automation and Control). The main used wireless devices are ZigBEE which transmits both analog and digital values. Also an Ethernet WI-FI can be used in some instances. There are now wireless thermostats, occupancy sensors and lighting sensors that just plug and play into a system.
The introduction of alternative energy products, such as solar or fuel cell, in the building scheme monitoring and controlling becomes more of a necessity. How much power can be compensated for and when is the best needs to be evaluated. Also, if energy storage is used, such as batteries, that needs to be included in the overall building automation platform. If a backup generator is part of the system we need to optimize its use and monitor its fuel consumption and unused portion.
Building security and safety such as fire alarms need to be able to notify people of the unsafe condition. This can include warning devices and messaging systems as well as emergency lighting and elevator control.
Now we will proceed to the industrial arena where larger energy usage and any savings could be greatly appreciated as well as increased productivity. With the use of wireless components we can make quick changes in our systems to accommodate new requirements, with our changing building floor plans and adding wired conduit and wire schemes. This also eliminates the shutdowns required to allow for their installation. If a wiring system is being used you can usually link what will still be used with the wireless system. If a wireless system is being used some modifications or a few added components is all that is needed. There are many devices that can be linked via internet since they have individual IP addresses. With the use of a mesh network any number of combinations can be used. Then the control software can logically apply where the data they provide or use can be allocated to get the end results desired.
When it comes to usage metering, wireless is a great dollar saver. We can now monitor water, energy usage such as gas and electricity and transmit it to a billing facility. It is very costly to send someone out to take these readings and that reduced cost, could be part of increased productivity and higher profitability.
Vehicle tracking can now be done with many GPS units already on the market. This could cut down on stolen vehicles, misused or misallocated use of vehicles such as school buses, taxis and emergency vehicles. Mileage on rental vehicles could be processed as the mileage is run up and before the vehicle is returned.
The ability to extend the wireless network has made the vending machine business more technical and efficient. This also could include water dispensing machines and Casino equipment. As inventory or a count of money deposited is made a cell phone can be used to monitor and control the units. This can be done in conjunction with GPRS/GSM modules that gather data and transmit it. The message can be a text message, e-mail or voice stream. The M2M or machine to machine technologies has opened up a broad new platform for automation and communications.
What makes up an operational wireless automation system? First need is a sense of a condition you need to know about. This may be a position, a presence or lack of situation, temperature, pressure or other conditions of an item or system. We then need to communicate that to the proper observer, which could be a person, logical controller or another device. A common system is a SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition)program, which allows observation of a system and the status of the components. It also allows for alarms and notification of extraordinary events.
The next component needed is some network of carrying that information say from some sensor to a device that can take that data and put it on a network in a packet system common to the system. This device can be a Data Acquisition Module. Some sensors now have this ability built-in. It can take the monitored different voltage and amperage reading and send them via a protocol to the other end which has an interpreter capability. This may be a PC, PLC or another device. Where there is a need to communicate from one protocol to another a converter or software can be used to make the interpretation.
The communication platform to move the data may be wired, fiber or wireless. It is the growth of wireless is what is making advances and changing our world.
After the destination device has interpreted and presented the information an action can be made and that information to be able to do so is transmitted back to some acting device such as a valve, a motor starter or the large number of methods of providing motion.
When it come to topologies, you will see ring, star, tree and now the growing mesh where any device may be able to communicate with any other component as need be. Where rerouting the information direction can take place quickly to accommodate the requirements of the system. You never know your refrigerator may talk to your car and let both the store and you know what is needed in the refrigerator. Your house may call you up and let you know who stopped by to say hello. A factory in India may notify a copper mine in South America its needs to produce a electric motor for a car manufactured in North Korea to be used in Europe.
There is speculation of even a “Cloud” network where the ability to get and transmit information on a large area will be available. This will include the computational needs as well. The cloud concept will interface with the use of the internet. This ability will move the technological advances even further to unforeseen benefits.