ARC sees a lot to like about FDT technology in general and the new features of FDT 2.0 in particular. Many organizations would throttle development programs to a slower pace once achieving the wide acceptance that FDT has enjoyed in several world regions.
However, it appears that the FDT Group has actually increased its work pace to be able to continue to advance the value of FDT to end users and automation suppliers alike. FDT 2.0, released several months ago, is intended to further improve ease of use, scalability, and versatility.
With increasing support from a growing number of suppliers in virtually every category of automation and field device, end users can now deploy FDT with little risk of obsolescence or stranded technology.
FDT technology is suitable for all industrial segments today, including process, discrete, and hybrid manufacturing. FDT architecture should also be capable of adapting to any field communication protocol that may be needed in the future.
More than 3,000 unique devices are now supported by FDT-certified DTMs that integrate 15 of the most popular field network communication standards, with more in the pipeline. New devices and standards can be added as warranted.
More than 80 FDT Group member companies have delivered tens of thousands of devices with FDT capability.
The technology enables users to take advantage of more of the capabilities embedded in their installed intelligent instruments – regardless of field protocol, control system, or device supplier. This can help lower both operating and maintenance costs.
According to the FDT Group, the standard's extensibility provides the flexibility to create new software and tools without compatibility issues with new or existing equipment. This gives end users the flexibility to adopt new enhancements at a pace appropriate for their organization with minimal risk from migration or obsolescence.
ARC research has shown that new technologies and programs can fall out of favour in plants or factories due to difficulties at any point during the life-cycle. FDT 2.0 adds features that can help end users and suppliers manage these issues throughout the field device and FDT product lifecycle.
FDT 2.0 uses a Microsoft .NET technology platform that enables fast and easy access to data while providing a stable platform for future enhancements.
The Microsoft .NET 4.0 platform is designed to be independent of hardware architectures and operating systems (including OS changes by Microsoft).
Other FDT 2.0 enhancements include an updated style guide, pre-tested common components, distributed FDT Frame Applications sharing, and an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) that facilitates development of FDT products.
Certified FDT 2.0 DTMs contain embedded, digitally signed proof-of-conformance certifications. Additionally, frame applications can be configured to alert IT administrators when an updated DTM is available, easing support of an installed device.
These enhancements work together to improve interoperability, reduce supplier and end user costs, and ensure that all FDT-compliant devices will integrate out of the box with certified FDT frame applications and DTMs.
OPC UA in the future
The planned inclusion of an OPC UA information model to be released in the near future will provide online data exchange between automation systems, asset management systems, and other plant and enterprise systems and applications. OPC UA technology uses a service-oriented architecture (SOA) that runs on Windows PCs, Linux, and other enterprise-level systems.
By integrating FDT and OPC, users will be able to use OPC UA applications to send data to business systems, enhancing the reliability of asset information and providing a comprehensive view of asset bottlenecks that require attention.
The FDT Group is also working with other field communication organizations to develop a new FDI (field device integration) standard. The future FDI standard seeks to couple the use of electronic device descriptions (EDDs) with a graphical interface into a new industry standard.
The FDT and FDI groups are working in tandem to ensure future interoperability. The FDT Group believes that end users adopting FDT and the impending FDT 2.0 will have a substantial lead over their peers by being able to develop new work processes now that realise the most value from FDT-enabled asset management initiatives.
Additionally, because FDT is suitable for all communication protocols, including discrete and sensor buses, end users have the flexibility to include discrete automation assets as their asset management initiatives expand.
[Harry Forbes is Senior Analyst, ARC Advisory Group.]