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FDI Cooperation a huge move fowards, say Australian suppliers

To accelerate deployment of the Field Device Integration (FDI) technology — an enhanced software file that interprets the HART protocol for humans — key global process control, instrumentation and automation suppliers have come together to enlarge the scope of the EDDL Cooperation Team, which will soon become the FDI Cooperation.

According to Australian suppliers, the FDI Cooperation will be a huge move forwards for vendors, standards committees and end-users, and will save us all money in the long-run. Sarah Falson speaks with some local representatives.

FDI, EDDL and FDT/DTM explained

When the HART protocol was developed, Device Description (DD) software was present to interpret the bits and bytes of the HART protocol into data and messages that could be understood by humans. When industry began to demand more complex instrumentation and control devices that could send and receive more information, DDs evolved into EDDLs (Extended Device Description Language) with enhanced functionality.

Despite these developments, EDDLs still come up short when required to describe complex devices such as Coriolis flowmeters. According to Endress+Hauser managing director, John Immelman, EDDLs also had two other shortcomings: “EDDLs cannot provide the graphics platform required when commissioning most ‘time-of-flight’ instruments based on ultrasonic and microwave technologies, plus they lack a standardised access path strategy between the host and the field device,” he told PACE.

For these reasons, an alternative interface platform was created, called the Field Device Tool/Device Type Manager (FDT/DTM) philosophy. FDT/DTMs have since gained wide popularity and acceptance by plant operators, to the point where most manufactures now supply both FDT and EDDL interfaces. However, this system is costly to both the manufacturer and the end-user, and was becoming difficult to sustain.

Therefore, over the past few years, disparate vendors gathered together to develop FDI technology. The project, now called the FDI Cooperation, was forged to merge the two software approaches into one universal technology for use in all industries and applications.

The major players

The FDI Cooperation currently consists of the five associations representing four major communication technologies. These are: FDT Group, Fieldbus Foundation, HART Communications Foundation, OPC Foundation and PROFIBUS Nutzerorganisation, representing Foundation Fieldbus, HART, OPC and Profibus communication protocols. Also supporting the cause are seven industrial equipment suppliers: ABB, Emerson, Endress+Hauser, Honeywell, Invensys, Siemens, and Yokogawa.

FDI technology was originally unveiled at the Hanover Fair in 2007. At this time, the primary objective was to harmonise EDDL and FDT/DTM technologies. Since then, the project has gained the support of more supplier companies which have agreed to support FDI in their systems and products for testing.

The finalisation of the FDI specification is due mid-2010. The FDI umbrella will cover common design and test tools, common binary format, and interpreter across the protocols of HART, Foundation Fieldbus and Profibus. The intent is to ensure a uniform device integration solution for process industries across all host systems, devices and protocols.

Each organisation and supplier are invested in expanding the FDI consortium in an effort to accelerate the integration of FDI into process control systems. If large vendors are invested in the technology, then customers will feel more confident when purchasing new products.

What it means for your plant

From Endress+Hauser’s point-of-view, the development of FDI technology will mean that all users of modern instrumentation, irrespective of the communication protocol — HART, Profibus or Foundation Fieldbus — can use one, harmonised interface to get the plant up-and-running.

“Endress+Hauser, as a Group, has had feet in both camps, EDDL and Endress+FDT/DTM, since their inception. But, more recently, we have favoured the latter since for many of our Level products, the EDDL technology is not able to provide the full functionality we require,” said Endress+Hauser’s Immelman.

“For our customers, especially in projects, where we are requested to include third party products in our scope of supply, it is common that some of these ‘specialised buyouts’ do not support FDT/DTM technology, and then the site has to implement both variations in order to commission and troubleshoot the installed base of instrumentation – most inefficient.

“As a consequence a ‘super’ DTM was created which can encapsulate any EDDL file and present it as a DTM, thereby allowing the site to only need one technology. The development of the FDI technology should mean that this step can be avoided.”

According to Yokogawa Australia managing director, John Hewitt, FDI technology will provide another tool for plant owners and technicians to access the extensive array of data inherent within modern intelligent field devices and networks.

“Yokogawa has always led the pursuit of open technology with a view towards easy interoperability between field devices and system hosts in the Fieldbus world. Different vendors have gathered together with similar aims in the past — the Fieldbus Foundation itself is a prime example. Anytime that interoperability and ease-of-use is improved can only be a good thing for the industry and all end users.”

ABB Control Systems Business group vice president, Mark Taft, says that both FDT and EDDL had shortfalls which he hopes FDI will cover.

“In working with customer-owners, ABB understands their high expectations for interoperability and integration of automation systems and intelligent field devices. While progress has been made, their expectations have not been met completely by any of the current fieldbus standards,” he told PACE.

“They require a consistent and rich integration of applications from intelligent devices with host systems, customers need and want to achieve the same performance when they buy a field device from one supplier, and the automation system from another, as they receive when they buy the whole package from a single supplier.

“Efforts by FDT and EDDL aimed to achieve this, but both have had their shortfalls — and in the end, there was a great deal of overlap in functionality. This meant that customers had to choose which approach to take, and there are limits in terms of compatible host systems and field devices based on the fact that some suppliers only support one approach.

“FDI as a singular approach, supported by all suppliers, will provide for the rich, vendor-independent interoperability and integration that customer-owners have strived for.”

Why suppliers are working together

According to ABB Process Automation Division manager, fieldbus standardisation, Achim Laubenstein, the banding together of disparate process automation vendors is a huge move forwards for the process control industry.

“Customers have been very unhappy with vendors competing through offering different integration technologies FDT and EDDL, instead of device functionality or sophisticated applications,” he said. “This competition actually prevented customers from getting the full benefit and use of their installed devices, and limited their choices when expanding their systems, as they were forced to choose a technology over desired functionality.”

Laubenstein says that FDI enables vendors to focus on functionality instead of technology. “In the long run, FDI will also reduce development and maintenance costs for vendors. Device vendors will have to deliver and maintain only one device driver instead of many. System vendors will not have to deal anymore with different implementations of the same EDDL.

“Implementation of this new specification will not only provide cost savings for customers, vendors and standards organisations, it will simplify the effort and tools needed to integrate devices and automation systems, and make valuable diagnostic and operations information more readily available.”

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