GSK opts for wireless water monitoring

GlaxoSmithKline has installed wireless technology from Emerson to monitor water usage at its Cork plant. The move paves the way for a broader network in the future

Water flow at remote installations can be monitored and the data sent via the wireless transmitters to the control station. The data helps manage water consumption and identify usage trends

GlaxoSmithKline has installed wireless technology from Emerson to monitor water usage at its Cork plant. The move paves the way for a broader network in the future

When an ageing water storage facility needed an upgrade, the remote location and non-critical status of the measurements provided an ideal opportunity for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to trial the latest digital automation technology and self-organising wireless technology, as part of its continuous improvement policy.

GSK’s Cork site in Ireland produces a range of bulk active ingredients for use in the formulation of prescription drugs. The drug maker is continuously looking to improve plant performance by increasing the number of parameters measured; this enables management to gain a better understanding and control of all parts of the plant, and more detail on costs.

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

The existing water storage facility at the Cork site, which dates back to the 1970s, 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 100,000 litre and 250,000 litre capacities were installed, along with a new pipework infra-structure. This updating exercise presented the opportunity to install the latest measurement devices to monitor both the mains and potable (drinking) water usage.

The Cork site covers some 150 acres with the storage tanks remotely located within the dedicated water treat-ment area of the plant, around 300m 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, GSK selected Emerson’s Smart Wireless self-organising technology to connect the devices.

With this particular 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, thus ensuring the highest possible communication reliability.

The Cork site has standardised on Emerson’s DeltaV system (a total of six DeltaV systems control various parts of the production process) and there are a large number of Emerson instrumentation devices as well. This includes wired Rosemount measurement devices, which are identical to the wireless devices in look and feel. GSK regards Rosemount instruments as very reliable and robust and it is comfortable with the core measurement technology. The company 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 (s) and the level and pressure transmitters every 300s 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 Smart Wireless Gateway installed on the rooftop

The new data has enabled clear identification of the water usage for different areas of the plant, providing a far better understanding of the costs. GSK is 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 the company looks to improve the plant with new equipment it is always looking to minimise capital expenditure and wireless can help achieve lower costs. Compared with a normal wired installation a wireless network of this size with just a few devices doesn’t usually present huge savings. However, because there was no existing cabling, the company would have had to lay new power and data cables both requiring trunking and ducting. It would also probably have had to dig trenches to bury the cables. These significant costs have been avoided by adopting a wireless solution.

The wireless network was installed by local contractors, who needed no support at all from Emerson either to install or start up the wireless network. The Smart Wireless network has now been running for just over eight months. There has been one minor issue with one of the flow meters, but an auto rebuild feature corrected this problem and GSK is 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 easy and inexpensive to add further 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 needing to install new power or data lines.

Not only does this reduce installation costs but it also speeds up installation significantly. GSK can now utilise the existing network and the cost benefit of the project will become apparent. The company is already looking at installing a wireless level device that will utilise the existing network that is in place.

GSK regards 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 the company is looking, perhaps, towards a wireless plant.