Self-organizing wireless technology is allowing one power company to gather the data it needs to monitor critical equipment effectively for preventive maintenance.

According to power company PPL, Emerson Process Management's Smart Wireless technology has proven to be "extremely cost-effective and reliable" in providing continuous performance data on critical boiler feed pumps at Montour power station as well as feedwater and air heaters at the Brunner Island Unit 1 of PPL Generation.

"The additional information provided by the wireless instruments allows us to more effectively monitor the mechanical and thermal performance of these valuable assets," according to Joe Murach, supervisor of equipment reliability.

Key temperature and pressure measurements were not available previously to populate software designed to analyze thermal performance and determine preventive maintenance schedules. Company officials have long wanted to obtain this information, but the high cost of installing wiring was a roadblock they could not overcome. Wireless was the only option for obtaining the needed data, Murach said.

Emerson's Smart Wireless technology was chosen following an on-site demonstration that proved its ability to transmit reliably despite the dense infrastructure of the power plant. Then Rosemount wireless transmitters were installed at the Montour plant to monitor suction pressure and differential pressure across the suction screen as well as other points that provide insight into the overall condition of the feedwater pumps.

A Smart Wireless network was installed at the Brunner Island plant to include wireless measurements that help determine thermal efficiency of the feedwater heater and the air preheating systems. More than 25 wireless transmitters were installed in a widely distributed layout around the unit's feedwater and air heating systems. These points are pulled into the plants historian as well as its reliability monitoring software.

"The Emerson technology is able handle the power plant environment," Murach said. "The transmitters communicate with the gateway without a problem, even across several floors and through walls. Going wireless eliminated the need for drilling through concrete decks, installing conduit and cable trays, and pulling wires. Instead, we have an easily installed, cost-effective and reliable wireless network."

Each wireless device in the PPL self-organizing network acts 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 mesh until a clear path to the wireless gateway is found. As conditions change or new obstacles such as temporary scaffolding or new equipment are encountered, new equipment, the self-organizing wireless network finds a way to deliver the messages.