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Digital, Unified Communication for Flow Meters

May 05, 2011

You’ve purchased your new flow meters and installed them. They’re all running and providing high quality flow data. You’ve decided, rightly so, that you need to connect the meters together so you can get information from a centralized console and possibly even adjust these meters from that same console. The days of walking to each meter and logging information are over; you now have a centralized location where you can obtain all process flow information.

But what happens if you have different protocols installed on different meters? Maybe older meters using “older” communication protocols, and newer meters using “newer” communication protocols.  Some may be running HART, some may be running Profibus DP, and others ModBus, and some just 4-20mA out. What do you do?

Well, not all is lost. The latest trends within the industrial process control area regarding “communications” is a process called unified communications. You can think of unified communications as a telephone operator that takes incoming “calls” and passes that “call” to the destination; along the way, it translates the “spoken” language of the source call to the destination. So, imagine calling someone in China and having your spoken English words passed to the destination converted to Chinese for you automatically! And it works in reverse also! Chinese to English!

So, assume you have a HART network connecting most of your meters, and you also have the latest Ethernet protocols connected to some of the newer meters. You would really like to have a single “console” that controls them all. But how? Well, Welcome to a protocol bridge. It takes the “source” protocol, and converts it into the “destination” protocol and does all the “language” translations for you!

You would use these protocol bridges to construct a unified communications network; and it’s this network where you would house and maintain all your consoles. You would be able take readings and make adjustments (if supported), regardless of the underlining protocol the flow meter is running.

Some benefits of utilizing a unified communications network:

  • The ability to extend your old meters communications “lifespan” by allowing them to “talk” to newer protocols, extending the ROI for the meter.

  • The ability to connect different meters utilizing different protocols together for a single unified communications protocol

  • By allowing your flow meters, regardless of the protocol they are running, to be “Web accessible,” in other words, having a Web-based console application

Next time I want to build on this discussion by talking about wireless networks

Kam Bansal, Dir. of Engineering
Written By:
Kam Bansal, Dir. of Engineering
Sierra Instruments

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