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Process Control Instrumentation Wiring:

Grounding and Protection Issues

By Gary Parker, P.E. on past experience when designing trol system end where the main
state-of-the-art process control sys- instrument ground bus and 24 volt dc
tems. Maximizing operation of the power supplies are located. If cable
process control system requires using shields are grounded intentionally or
Protecting process control equipment
all the tools available to the engineer. unintentionally at multiple points,
from noise and transients requires
These tools include industry stan- ground circulating currents or loop
proper design and installation proce-
dards such as the National Electric currents are formed, causing noise on
dures for grounding and surge sup-
Code (NEC), IEEE 142 (Green Book), the 4-20mA current signal, and can
pression. Microprocessor-based
IEEE 1100 (Emerald Book) and techni- result in inconsistent data values.
devices are becoming more sensitive
cal papers and industry publications.
and their use is increasing. Advances
Within the plant, process field trans-
in microprocessor technology have
mitters are subjected to surges and
resulted in more densely packed inte- Facility Design Guidelines noise from other electrical systems
grated circuits with lower signal volt- Eighty percent of all electrical noise and from natural effects such as light-
ages to increase operating speed. and transients are generated by loads ning. Lightning events close to or far
While the decrease in signal voltage within the plant. The remaining 20 away from the plant can cause the
allows for increased circuit density percent of electrical noise and tran- ground potential to rise, thus induc-
and higher operating speed, the result sients are caused by sources external ing a high differential voltage on the
is that the electronics are more suscep- to the facility, such as lightning and instrumentation cable. Special design
tible to damage due to overvoltages electrical grid switching events. considerations need to be made when
and transients.
laying out the field instrumentation
The design and installation of surge wiring distribution systems. Voltage
Background protection and proper grounding form class separations need to be followed.
Process control equipment such as the foundation for reliable process Standard industry guidelines for volt-
programmable logic controller (PLC), control system instrumentation and age class separations are shown in
remote I/O, distributed control sys- control wiring. Field instrumentation Table 2.
tem (DCS), field instrumentation and cable shields should only be connect-
control system communications are ed to the instrument ground at one Other design considerations for field
types of equipment containing inte- point. This single point ground con- instrumentation wiring are the dis-
grated circuits and microprocessors nection is normally located at the con- tance and location from the plant’s
susceptible to noise and transients
from the cabling connected to the field
devices. Electrical noise and transients Effect on Equipment Transient Transient Noise
of magnitudes more than two times
2x Normal 4x Normal Repetitive
the normal operating voltage can cre-
ate problems which could result in Circuit board failure Yes Yes
equipment downtime and lost pro-
ductivity (see Table 1). In addition to Data transmission errors Yes Yes Yes
overvoltages, electrical noise less than
Power supply failure Yes Yes Yes
two times operating voltage can cause
problems with logic circuits (see Fig. 1). Memory loss Yes Yes Yes

Facility engineers responsible for Hard disk crash Yes

keeping process control systems run- Program lock up Yes Yes Yes
ning, minimizing downtime and
maintaining production cannot count SCR failure Yes

Effect of Electrical Transient and Noise

Table 1

4 Burns & McDonnell

control system. If the field instrumen- If the field instrumentation is located
tation is located within the main plant remote from the main plant bound-
boundaries, where the instrument aries, a different protection scheme
ground system is at an equal poten- must be used. The instrument ground
tial, surge protection devices such as is probably not at the same potential
metal oxide varistors (MOVs) should as the instrument power supply
be installed at the transmitter and at ground system. Common-mode pro-
the PLC or DCS I/O modules. Apply tection is not effective in this situation.
common-mode protection (Figure 2) Common-mode noise is defined as
to the DCS and transverse-mode pro- noise voltage that appears equally and
tection at the instrument ends of the in phase with each current carrying
cable. Transverse-mode noise is conductor to ground. MOVs should
defined as noise signals measurable be connected in a transverse-mode Many commercial
between or among active circuit con- configuration as shown in Fig. 2.
ductors feeding the load, but not
between the equipment grounding Many commercial surge protectors surge protectors
conductor or associated signal refer- have transverse mode, common-mode
ence structure and the active circuit protection and inductors to limit cur-
conductors. rent changes. These types of surge have transverse
protectors can cause failures on trans-
mitters remote from the signal power
source. mode, common-mode
When surges are present on the con-
Signal trol system wiring, the MOVs shunt protection and induc-
the excess transient voltage to ground,
Noise on Data Circuit thus protecting the instrument or the
Figure 1 PLC/DCS I/O module. MOV ratings tors to limit current
should be sized within a range from
115 percent to 130 percent of the nom-
inal voltage for the circuit. MOV rat-
Transverse Mode ing for 24vdc analog instrumentation
PLC or is rated at 36vdc and 160 joules.
DCS MOVs Transmitter
Higher energy ratings may be
required if the instrument ground sys-
Instrument tem does not have a low impedance
Ground Tape & Isolate
Common Mode Shield connection to ground. Instrument
PLC or
ground impedance should be 2 ohms
DCS or less.

Ground Tape & Isolate
MOVs 36 Volt, 160 Joules Rating

4-20mA Analog Signal

Figure 2

TechBriefs 5
Avoid the use of silicon avalanche 2. Isolate instrumentation shields at
diodes by themselves. These devices the field transmitter. To prevent
conduct rapidly, but do not have the circulating ground currents, bond
energy rating necessary to protect the shield to ground only at one
field instrumentation. Avalanche end of the circuit, normally at the
diodes must be used with other high- control system end.
energy protective devices. 3. Apply surge protection to the field
transmitter and the control system
Conclusion I/O modules. For new projects,
develop proper I/O surge suppres-
Microprocessor-based devices such as
sion specifications for control sys-
PLCs and DCS allow faster processing
speeds, but with higher susceptibility
tems to assure transient protection. Gary Parker is an asso-
4. Consider the plant’s environment. ciate engineer and proj-
to transients induced from field
Is the plant’s instrumentation with-
instrumentation wiring. Proper plan-
in the main plant boundaries or at ect manager in Burns &
ning and design can increase the plant
remote sites? Apply proper surge McDonnell’s Denver,
control systems’ overall reliability. A
review of recommendations discussed
suppression equipment based on Colo., office. He has more
the instrument location.
in this article: than 21 years of experi-
1. Design a low impedance instru- ence in industrial and
mentation grounding system.
Obtain earth resistivity measure-
commercial facilities
ments wherever possible. This sys- design. He graduated
tem is the backbone for imple- from Oklahoma State
menting successful protection University with a bache-
against noise and transients.
lor’s degree in electrical
engineering. He has been
a member of the IEEE
Voltage Industrial Applications
Society for 17 years.
Class 1 2 3
1 * 1 3
2 1 * 3

Table 2 Notes:
1. Voltage class Level 1 Circuits: Analog circuits less than 50V, digital
circuits less than 12V or telephone circuits.
2. Voltage Class Level 2 Circuits: Analog circuits greater than 50V or
digital circuits greater than 12V.
3. Voltage Class Level 3 Circuits: 120V ac or dc circuits operating at
less than 20 amperes.
4. * = Minimum separation required for installation of locknuts as if
adjacent conduit were terminating in an enclosure.

Minimum Horizontal and Vertical Spacing Between Different Raceway Outside Surfaces in Inches
Table 2

6 Burns & McDonnell