Wireless sensor networks trigger energy, cash savings

When it comes to saving companies money on energy bills, wireless systems that can monitor and perform diagnostics on motors used in industrial processes could improve production efficiency by 10 to 20%, according to the  Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

And there are a number of new wireless sensor products, developed in concert with the Department of Energy on the way to bolster this claim. Cost savings with wireless systems are substantial, as running wire in plants costs between $160 and $4,000 per foot. The typical payback is about six months for a wireless system vs. 23 months for wired according to Wayne Manges of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Department of Energy’s Industrial Technologies Program (ITP). The ITP works with US industry to improve energy efficiency and environmental performance. 

"With electric motor-driven systems accounting for nearly one-fourth of all electricity consumption in the United States, the potential for savings is huge," he said in a release.

The driving idea behind wireless sensors is that they can help customers quickly identify manufacturing inefficiencies and let them fix problems more quickly. The DOE , in  a recent issue of its “Energy Matters,” publication looked at some news technologies from General Electric; Sensicast; Honeywell International; and Eaton that are available or soon will be to enable wireless monitoring. 

The key products include:

·          GE LabWatch: A turnkey wireless mesh system of monitors and software that can report on a variety of conditions.

·          GE Kaye RF ValProbe:  The probe is a wireless validation system from comprised of RF wireless loggers, a base station and software. The loggers provide accurate measurements of temperature, humidity, and any 4-20 or 0-10 V output, GE said.

·          Honeywell's OneWireless universal mesh network: Honeywell said this turnkey net includes a single, plant-wide infrastructure that is relatively low in cost; an ability to connect sensors simultaneously to a variety of protocols, such as HART, OPC, and Modbus; and high reliability and flexibility.

·          Sensicast’s SensiNet: A turnkey wireless sensor network built for industrial and commercial environments where wireless operation and high reliability are required.

·          Eaton:  Te company has been developing a low-cost wireless motor monitoring system that continuously measures line voltage and current to evaluate motor energy use, according to the DOE. This system will gather energy data based on Eaton's novel online inferential algorithms for energy estimation and condition-based monitoring of electric motors and connected loads.

In related news the ITP also this month announced it would be distributing $15 million to support R&D of improved energy efficiency in industrial processes. Wireless networks in all forms are hot.  There is a ton of research going on to make wireless networks faster, less expensive and more energy-efficient.

There are concerns too.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology said last year  it is looking to establish a set of standards aimed at pre-qualifying wireless devices for use in industrial environments. NIST says heavy industrial plants can be highly reflective environments, scattering radio waves erratically, and interfering with or blocking wireless transmissions. Electromagnetic interference may hinder the auto industry, some of the world’s largest manufacturing sites, and other manufacturing environments  in trying to take advantage of wireless networks.  GM for example has made extensive use of wireless technologies in its manufacturing locations.  

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