Source: ARC Advisory Group

Wireless technology will see widespread adoption on the plant floor and out in the field, growing in manufacturing environments at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26 percent over the next five years, according to a report by ARC Advisory Group (www.arcweb.com). The research firms estimates the market for wireless systems in manufacturing was $325.7 million in 2005 and is forecasting it to reach over $1 billion in 2010.

In its report titled “Wireless Technology in Process Manufacturing,” ARC says many manufacturers see wireless technologies as an enabler of entirely new business processes that will not only be less expensive, but will be safer, more reliable, and more transparent than their current manufacturing practices.

According to ARC, a major factor favoring greater deployment of wireless technologies in manufacturing is the ability of wireless applications to enable new and better ways of operating manufacturing plants, and it believes process manufacturing stands to feel the greatest impact. Field operations within a process plant are a classic case of the need for more information that can only be delivered wirelessly, notes ARC. Historically, process manufacturing has not been able to use wireless on a broad scale, but ARC says new sensor networking and WLAN developments will soon change this, presenting an opportunity for manufacturers who can use wireless to gain visibility into hidden processes, assets, and activities.

ARC says wireless technology offers a more cost-effective means of monitoring plant equipment and production processes and enables real-time decision making to optimize production or to head off maintenance issues before they interrupt production. According to ARC, literally millions of field devices are installed at a great cost in process manufacturing facilities. However, because most are not digitally enabled, ARC says their ability to share process and maintenance information is extremely limited. ARC believes this presents an opportunity for wireless technology, which can be used to enable such assets to the benefit of operations, maintenance, and business systems across the enterprise.

ARC acknowledges that wireless has been a part of SCADA systems in oil, gas, and electric power for decades. The major trend in the market, however, is, according to ARC, growth through incorporation of new wireless technologies. These technologies have their roots in the information technology, telecom, consumer, and military markets. Manufacturing is adopting them in cases where the value of wireless information is apparent, but the market is far from saturated, notes ARC.

ARC says wireless LAN technology has been mainly deployed at indoor facilities, but the research firm expects these will expand to encompass entire plants. Furthermore, new wireless sensor technologies are expected to reduce the cost of information dramatically as they are developed and deployed in manufacturing.