The industrial sector may not be the flashiest or most talked about wireless application area. Yet it is experiencing a high rate of growth and development. Thanks to recent support from the U.S. government, wireless' potential for industry should only increase. The U.S. Department of Energy has recently funded a three-year, $6-million project to increase the overall energy efficiency of American industry. The goal of this project is to develop wireless sensor networks and systems that will raise the efficiency of electric motors.
Three collaborators are taking part in this project: GE Global Research (www.research.ge.com), Sensicast Systems (www.sensicast.com), and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (www. rpi.edu). GE Global Research has been chosen to lead the project, which will begin by analyzing the efficiency of industrial motors. Sensicast is providing mesh-networking software that eliminates signal interference. It also will integrate the wireless network into the exising plant network. For its part, RPI is developing physics-based models for the analysis and lifetime prediction of the motors.
The partners' plan is to install wireless sensors on selected motors in a plant operation (SEE FIGURE). Those sensors will monitor the parameters that are critical to each motor's condition and efficiency. Such parameters will be based on a combination of measurements like vibration, temperature, and power quality. The resulting data will be wirelessly transmitted to a computer that analyzes the data from each sensor. Any potential problems will be transmitted to plant personnel via phone, pager, or e-mail as an advanced warning system. Plant personnel will then be able to repair or replace motors before their efficiency drops or they fail entirely.
This development project will result in a robust, low-power communications network that will operate in an industrial environment. Such low power consumption could allow networks to operate for years on a single battery. The new technology also will enable a configurable, two-way communications network. This two-way capability invites the use of control applications that can be used to respond to the monitoring system. For wireless mesh networks, these advantages may translate into new applications. Future wireless mesh networks also may perform home security, process monitoring and control, asset tracking, and patient monitoring.