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Communication with analysers in the digital age

Blog post Elscolab - Communication with analysers in the digital age

Everything has to be digital these days, both in our private lives and the workplace. When we talk about the workplace, we don’t just mean the office by the way; we also mean the process instrumentation and process analysers. Inline and online analysis systems are digital. Meanwhile, in the PAT world (Process Analytical Technology), much thought is being put into how to deal with this digital information. Buzzwords such as IIoT and Industry 4.0 have appeared for good reason, and most specialists agree that this far-reaching digitisation is the future. It’s a good idea to make sure that your transmitters and analysers are ready for the future before it’s upon us.

Not much new under the sun

It may surprise you to hear this, but inline analysers for measuring pH, oxygen, conductivity and refractive index (Brix) have already been largely digitised to a great extent. Measuring transducers and analysers which use the HART communication protocol, fieldbus technology (Foundation Fieldbus, Profibus, ModBus) and Ethernet have been available for years. The bits and bytes are already there, in other words, and that is the first important step.

Are you still using classic analogue 4 to 20 mA signals and voltage-free contacts? No need! The principal suppliers have been selling intelligent sensors that you can connect to measuring transducers that only use 4 to 20 mA signals for more than a decade. So, as you see, there is little new under the sun.

Intelligent sensors

Is your process automation system still analogue? If so, you should definitely use intelligent sensors to bring the available digital information to a higher level. This type of sensor, for measuring things like pH and oxygen concentrations, can be linked to a PC or even a smartphone. It means you can store the status, diagnosis parameters, history and calibration data in a database. You can also calibrate with a PC. A smartphone can diagnose and calibrate via Bluetooth.

Follow your HART

Whether you use intelligent sensors or not, digital information is also available via the measuring transducer. HART is a digital protocol which uses the classic 4 to 20 mA signal to transfer digital information. It means you can digitally forward all sensor information and calibration data, and of course the current measured values, to a higher level for further processing.

For more information about HART, go to hartcomm.org.

Take the bus

Field buses are completely digital systems. The best-known ones are Foundation Fieldbus and ProfiBus. Both these systems allow you to communicate completely digitally. Communication is faster and offers more options than the HART protocol. These bus systems transfer all sensor information, calibration data, measured values and transmitter status to a PLC, SCADA system, or DCS in a fraction of a second

If you want to know more about field buses, go to profibus.com or fieldbus.org.

Basically, more for the same money

To recap: HART, Foundation Fieldbus and Profibus are not new, and the chances are that you already use them. But are you also exploiting their full potential? Experience shows that to date, digital communication is mainly used to transmit measurements and alarms. The new wave of digitisation we’ll shortly be going through will basically connect everything with everything. The idea is that besides measurements being used for process control and management, relevant information is also available to those who need it.

You can lay the foundation for this today with existing technology. You only need to communicate the required digital information that is already available. The Maintenance Department can then remotely request the status, and refine the predictive maintenance plan. Logistics can monitor the lives and consumption of sensors, and report and investigate abnormal consumption. The Quality Department gets up-to-date calibration data and calibration and/or validation reports. Process Management can establish links between process events and the behaviour of sensors and analysers.

So, wait quietly while the wave of far-reaching digitisation approaches. The necessary information is already available in digital form, you only have to direct it digitally to where you want it to go. The further distribution and processing of all data takes place at a higher level. Industry 4.0 is not a real challenge for inline and online analysers.


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