The rise of wireless sensing technologies that are multivariable and self-powered, cover wide areas, and are easy to configure and maintain presents both solutions and challenges to the chemical industry. For operating companies, such technologies allow access to hitherto unknown levels of process data, opening a vista of vastly improved process control and management. For vendors, the challenge is to both improve and increase the range of existing sensors, and to ensure that all the data from them is presented in such a way that customers can drive plant efficiency and profitability. Ultimately, though, wide acceptance will depend upon making these new technologies totally secure.
The benefits of such sensing regimes already are emerging. At the Emerson Global Users Exchange in Grapevine, Texas, last October, a speaker from the Flint Hills Resources refinery in Pine Bend, Minn., explained how using wireless vibration transmitters for continuous fault detection had reduced maintenance costs dramatically and prevented possible catastrophic failures. Similarly, a speaker from Fluor, Irving, Texas, recounted how one of its customers used wireless acoustic transmitters to provide instant alerts about failed steam traps, saving $36,000 in the first year.