by Colleen Lent

The Hampton Union, Tuesday, September 23, 2003

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON – For a business professional, wireless technology is the convenience of checking e-mails and help with meeting schedules from a palm-sized personal digital assistant. For friends and relatives, it’s the luxury of instant access to a loved one. For college students, it’s the portability of a laptop computer for completing assignments away from a noisy dorm room.

For Paul Richards, president of Process Instrumentation Inc. (PII) in Hampton, and Henry Mullaney, director of the New Hampshire Industrial Research Center (NHIRC) at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, wireless technology is a means of helping the local economy and increasing efficiency in a host of industrial settings.

NHIRC recently awarded PII, a manufacturer’s representative for devices that can measure things like temperature in a factory setting, a $40,000 grant to develop a wireless system for instrumentation interfaces.

PII matched the grant amount to fund the $80,000 project.

The research initiative is being conducted at Kingsbury Hall at UNH under the direction of John McHugh, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Tim Upton, research scientist. The goal is to couple industrial sensors with wireless communications, replacing hard wires with radio waves.

“We’re not trying to invent wireless technology,” Richards said. “It already exists. We’re just one member of that research.”

“Industrial Wireless Technology of the 21st Century,” a December 2002 report appearing on the Office of Industrial Technologies (OIT) Web site, cites findings from Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., on the spread of wireless technology in commercial settings. Nearly 15 percent of industrial companies have wireless networks, an increase of 6 percent in one year.

The outsider may assume the primary advantage of a wireless instrumentation interface system is related to cosmetics – the elimination of heaps of unidentifiable wires. However, Richards is quick to clear up a common misconception.

“They (companies) cannot afford to have a tangled mess.”

Sound practices require a series of steps in installing and controlling a hard wire system, including establishing conduits and developing documentation and drawings.

“That’s all very expensive,” Richards said, adding that, if a product costs $5,000, the customer often pays another $5,000 in installation fees, as engineers, contractors and other professionals must be hired.

According to the OIT report, hard wiring, costing $50 to $100 per foot, can be eliminated from industrial sites through wireless innovation. Richards added that, if the cost of sensor deployment is reduced, users will be able to improve product quality, increase profits and save energy. The latter benefit is of particular interest to the Department of Energy, according to Mullaney and Richards.

“There will be a big market within a few years,” Mullaney said. “It’s a lot cheaper and easier to maintain. We started this project to get into position.”

Mullaney expects the wireless instrumentation interface system will be ready for testing at UNH this fall.

According to Mullaney, the N.H. Legislature established NHIRC in 1991 to lend a helping hand to the state’s industrial and business community. The NHIRC is funded by the state through the Department of Resources and Economic Development.

“We were created to move technology from the laboratory to New Hampshire companies,” Mullaney said.

In its 11th year of “real” operation, Mullaney said, the NHIRC can demonstrate quantifiable benefits to the Granite State, including a $500 million boost to the economy, 3,000 new jobs and $9 million in tax revenue.

“The program pays for itself,” Mullaney said. According to the NHIRC’s Web site, PII is predicting the initiative will result in 35 new jobs and $8.4 million in sales in five years.

Richards said in anticipation of positive results from the collaborative research efforts, Wireless Sensors LLC was established to act as the new manufacturing arm of Process Instrumentation.

“It’s very exciting,” Richards said. “The opportunities are virtually limitless for growth. Wireless technology is deeply ingrained in everything that’s going on.”