There exists a standard for wireless sensor networks for process control–WirelessHart. Hart Communication Foundation Executive Director Ron Helson tells me that it is also in the final ballot stage for adoption as a standard under the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

Meanwhile, drama continues around what appears right now to be a competing standard–ISA100-11a of the International Society of Automation–adopted by ISA but awainting further approvals. The ISA100 committee met at the same venue as the ARC Forum last week in Orlando. I did not get any updates from the meetings and only saw a couple of people. Supplemental to that effort, ISA has developed a Wireless Compliance Institute as a testing body for certification of products to the standard. Some, even within the community, have raised the question as to why ISA is getting into the business that already has established suppliers–but that’s a discussion for the future.

One problem facing ISA100 is a challenge by a group arguing that the committee did not follow the correct procedures during its adoption process. This group has taken its complaint to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the organization that blesses industry standards in the United States. ANSI has subsequently placed adoption of ISA100.11a on hold pending further review–an extraordinary situation.

Meanwhile, attempts to rationalize the differences between the two standards appear to be dead. This is unfortunate. A panel of practitioners at one session at the ARC Forum uniformly pleaded for a single wireless standard. I think that this situation is partly caused by a gross misunderstanding of the Hart Communication Foundation by some committee members. ISA committees are supposed to be end-user driven–although suuppliers seem to hold much sway in the deliberations. HCF is a supplier association. Actually, Helson tells me that it would gladly accept end-user membership and input, but financing and technical support is more forthcoming from suppliers. (As an aside, a survey of readers of Automation World revealed that end users look to suppliers for technological advances.) All this is background for a comment I heard directly from a committee member and heard repeated from other sources–WirelessHart is proprietary to one automation supplier and not an open standard. That is simply NOT TRUE. See paragraph one. WirelessHart is an adopted standard open to all (and most automation suppliers support it) and should soon be also an IEC standard.

I heard a similar obfuscation for years about DeviceNet and Profibus. People on one side or the other claimed that a standard really was proprietary to the main automation backer. Once again, not true.

I don’t know where this sort of nonsense comes from, but he should check his facts before spreading untruths. This sort of thing sounds like the American political system right now when people spout opinions without checking out any facts. Engineering-driven committees should be the leaders of deciding the merits of technology on facts not fables.

We’ve been at this wireless adoption far too long. It’ll start impeding innovation and progress. All these people better start talking and bring the industry a standard we can start developing to and implementing.

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