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Wireless Technology Modernizes Power Plant Performance Monitoring

 We know that WirelessHART makes field instrumentation installation easier and less expensive, but in certain situations, such as temporary installations, it can be more convenient.

One company has taken advantage of WirelessHART’s capabilities in a big way to make major deployments of instrumentation on a temporary basis. WirelessHART has become a critical tool in their kit and we can all learn from their experience.

In the January, 2020 issue of Process Heating, Wireless Technology Modernizes Power Plant Performance Monitoring we discuss the experiences of a reliability and efficiency development team within a major electric utility company. These people spend their time going from one generating plant to the next looking for ways to improve performance and profitability. 

Their main yardstick for evaluating performance is heat rate, which is essentially fuel consumption divided by electrical output. To determine this, they bring in a lot of specialized instrumentation which they install. They take readings from these instruments, make their adjustments, and then remove it all when they’re done. Using conventional wired networks, they used to spend a lot of time sorting through signal dropouts caused by wiring problems before they got any useful readings.

When such failures occurred, excessive troubleshooting time and a high level of expertise were required to determine the root cause. As the team got used to saying, “Technicians install the wiring, and engineers troubleshoot it.” To address these concerns, the team adopted WirelessHART for instruments temporarily installed to perform gas turbine and cooling tower tests. By avoiding much of the complex wiring normally required for this type of temporary installation, the team estimates it saves 15 to 40 percent of setup time.

The team isn’t able to use WirelessHART for all their instrumentation simply due to device availability limits, but they would if they could. Avoiding the wiring problems has improved their ability to get tests done far more quickly.

Modern wireless technology allows the team to perform more than 100 tests and performance evaluations each year. The experience gained adds to an extensive database of documenting past performance challenges and solutions. According to the power plant performance team, it would not be able to perform as much testing with conventional wiring due to the high amount of labor, installation, troubleshooting, and decommissioning time needed for the wired infrastructure.

So, think about other ways to use wireless field devices. Here are some ideas for ways to get more from a WirelessHART network:

  • Temporary installations, just like our subject company learned
  • Mobile installations, such as an equipment skid that has to move around
  • Instruments requiring frequent relocation, such as moving a Rosemount X-well Temperature Transmitter from one measurement point to another
  • Adding adapters, such as the Emerson Wireless 775 THUM Adapter, to conventional instruments
  • Adding instruments even when existing I/O slots are all filled.

How are you using WirelessHART in your plant? Let’s hear about creative ways you’ve extended its capabilities. You can tell others about your implementations and experiences at the Emerson Exchange365 community forum, a place where you can share ideas and experiences with others in the same situation.

1 Reply

  • This reminds me of the 2011 Emerson Exchange session by Petronas Melaka refinery. They had lots of successful use cases, but the application that really stuck with me was a temporary engineering trial for process troubleshooting. They were not able to meet their production goal. They suspected control valve sizing issue. So they simply dropped in wireless pressure transmitters (they already had wireless infrastructure in the plant for many other use cases) on a temporary basis in place of mechanical pressure gauges (did not have to do any cutting, drilling, or welding – simply recusing the existing connection). Got the live data into the system with a few clicks. Confirmed valve sizing is OK, made other process changes to get correct DP, increasing production by 2% without having to replace the valve. Similar case with kerosene clay filters.

    Indeed I think some of these temporary engineering tests will become permanent. As plants are chasing energy efficiency and sustainability goals, they will want to monitor performance continuously. Not just on large gas turbines and steam turbines, but also on the second tier of energy consumers that can also make an impact. And, the same wireless network is used by other energy efficiency and loss control solutions like steam trap and PRV monitoring that straight away pinpoint the source of loss, and for ISO 50001 type energy management with EMIS software. And reliability, production, and personnel safety.

    Learn what other plants are doing for temporary process troubleshooting and more from this essay: