Wireless instrumentation, defined as the merger of wireless sensor network (WSN) technologies with industrial field instrumentation, has become increasingly popular in the process industries since the recent ratifications of the WirelessHART and ISA100.11a specifications. By providing reliable self-healing and self-configuring wireless communication, these standards offers a cost-efficient alternative to traditional wired field instruments.

In process automation, field devices can be classified in three categories according to the nature and criticality of their application; namely monitoring, control and safety. These can be further divided into usage classes, for instance enabling the distinction between open and closed loop control. The requirements of the wireless communication protocol vary depending on the usage class of the wireless instruments, e.g. there is a major difference from using a wireless sensor for history collection every few minutes, to being a part of a closed loop with a process time of a few hundred milliseconds.

This paper provides a survey of the current status of wireless instrumentation in the oil and gas industry. The requirements and challenges, along with financial drivers and benefits, are addressed, and an overview of WSN technologies and international standards are presented. Through extensive theoretical analysis, laboratory experiments and pilot installations, it has become apparent that wireless instrumentation is ready for adoption at scale in non-critical monitoring applications. For control and safety systems, however, the currently available solutions have limitations which must be addressed through research and innovation before they are able to fulfill the more stringent requirements found in these types of applications.

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