Articles & Case Studies

Wireless technology monitors water usage and enables network for the future

Posted: Friday 15th April 2011

Emmett Martin, Site Services & Automation Manager, GlaxoSmithKline explains how an instrumentation upgrade to an ageing water storage facility, not only provided an opportunity to trial the latest self-organising wireless technology, but may have also introduced a future network for the entire plant.

GlaxoSmithKline has a policy of continuous improvement which is partly achieved by adding monitoring instrumentation. So when an ageing water storage facility needed an upgrade, the remote location and non-critical status of the measurements provided an ideal opportunity to trial the latest digital automation technology and self-organising wireless technology.

GlaxoSmithKline is one of the world's leading research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare companies. Our Cork site in Ireland is a strategic manufacturing plant that produces a range of bulk active ingredients for use in the formulation of prescription drugs. The company is continuously looking to improve plant performance by increasing the number of parameters measured; this enables our management to gain a better understanding and control of all parts of the plant, and more detail on the costs involved.

One focus of attention is water management. Water is a considerable overhead to the plant so it is important that we monitor flow rates to manage consumption, and to help identify any usage trends. We strive to reduce natural resource consumption and GlaxoSmithKline has adopted global standards on water management to ensure the sustainability of our operations. To support this policy, it is important to obtain additional measurement data throughout the plant for all aspects of water use.

The existing water storage facility at the Cork site, which dated back to the 1970ís, was too small and had no measurement instrumentation in place. This part of the plant needed to be upgraded and two new storage tanks with capacities of 100,000 and 250,000 litres were installed, along with a new pipe work infrastructure. This updating of the storage equipment presented the perfect opportunity to install the latest measurement devices to monitor both the mains and potable (drinking) water usage.

The remoteness of the new water tanks and associated equipment, and the lack of any existing instrumentation wiring, made this an ideal application to implement a wireless solution. The installation of wireless pressure and flowmeters would provide us with the opportunity to put in place a wireless network that could be used to cost effectively connect additional instrumentation and of course to better manage our water usage.

GlaxoSmithKline was one of the first companies to install a DeltaVô digital automation system way back in 1999 and the company regards itself as a pioneer/leader in using new technology. When Emerson presented its Smart Wireless technology to us we saw this application as a great opportunity to trial the technology on what is a non-critical set of measurements that do not affect the quality of our final products.

The Cork site covers around 150 acres with the storage tanks remotely located within the dedicated water treatment area of the plant, around 300 metres from the main control room. There was no line of sight between the location of the transmitters and the ideal position for the gateway. To overcome this problem, we selected Emersonís Smart Wireless self-organising technology to connect the devices.

With Emersonís self-organising technology, each wireless device can act as a router for other nearby devices, passing messages along until they reach their destination. If there is an obstruction, transmissions are simply re-routed along the network until a clear path to the wireless gateway is found. The technology also offers redundant communication via two or three routes ensuring the highest possible communication reliability.

GlaxoSmithKline was extremely familiar with Emerson and its class leading technologies before selecting Smart Wireless. The Cork site has standardised on Emersonís DeltaV system (there are a total of six DeltaV systems controlling various parts of the production process) and there are a large number of Emerson instrumentation devices as well. This includes wired Rosemountģ measurement devices, which are identical to the wireless devices in look and feel. We regard the Rosemount instruments to be very reliable and robust and are extremely comfortable with the core measurement technology. We just needed to be convinced that the wireless technology could offer similar levels of reliability.

Ten Smart Wireless devices were installed including six Rosemount pressure transmitters, two Rosemount flow meters and two Rosemount level transmitters. The Smart Wireless technology integrates seamlessly with the existing automation equipment. The flow transmitters send data every 30 seconds and the level and pressure transmitters every 300 seconds to a Smart Wireless Gateway strategically positioned on the control room roof. This is connected using a serial connection to the existing DeltaV system that handles the environmental section of the plant. From here the flow and pressure measurements are sent to a data historian and are available to plant operators for regular monitoring and reporting.

The new data has enabled us to clearly identify the water usage for different areas of the plant providing a far better understanding of the costs. We are now in a position to spot changes, perhaps at different times of the year and to understand what processes might create any changes in usage.

Whenever we look to improve the plant with new equipment we are always looking to minimise capital expenditure and wireless can help achieve lower costs. Compared to a normal wired installation a wireless network of this size with just a few devices doesnít usually present huge savings. However, because there was no existing cabling, we would have had to lay new power and data cables both requiring trunking and ducting. We would also probably have had to dig trenches to bury the cables as well. These significant costs have been avoided by adopting a wireless solution.

The wireless network was installed by our local contractors who needed no support at all from Emerson either to install or start up the wireless network. The Smart Wireless network has been running for just over eight months now. We had a minor issue with one of the flow meters, but an auto rebuild feature corrected this problem and we are more than satisfied with the solution, which is proving to be reliable with no signal loss.

One of the real benefits of the mesh network is that now it is in place it is very easy and inexpensive to add additional measurement devices without the need for new cabling. Additional flow, temperature or pressure devices, or indeed a whole host of process instruments, can be added without the need to install new power or data lines. Not only does this reduce installation costs, especially if there is no existing cabling in the area you want to add the device, but it also speeds the installation up significantly. We can now utilise the existing network and the cost benefit of the project will become apparent. We are already looking at installing a wireless level device that will utilise the existing network that is in place.

We regard the installation of wireless at the Cork site very much as a two stage process. The first step is to establish a wireless network and let it prove itself over a period of time. Once this has been achieved, the next step is to expand the network and use wireless whenever it is more cost-effective than a wired alternative. Based on a successful implementation, at some point in the future we are perhaps, looking towards a plant with no wires.

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