• By Glenn Schulz
  • Special Section
NGL producer improves commissioning, troubleshooting, and safety
FDT technology for smart instrumentation information monitoring and asset management

By Glenn Schulz

Device configuration and commissioning tasks are traditionally time consuming, tedious, manual, and prone to errors. Yet, they are vital for the reliability and safety of an industrial facility. Canadian company Inter Pipeline Ltd. streamlined plant startup and safety procedures with smart instrumentation information monitoring and asset management solutions. Having open access to device intelligence is essential to enhanced reliability, reduced failures, and faster startup times.

The following article describes how Inter Pipeline recently commissioned a new liquids extraction plant with smart HART devices, and how it used field device tool (FDT) technology to access information to effectively streamline precommissioning, configuration, and troubleshooting of field instruments.

Inter Pipeline is a major petroleum transportation, storage, and natural gas liquids (NGL) processing company based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It owns and operates facilities throughout western Canada and Europe.

In 2016, Inter Pipeline acquired a Canadian midstream business. The company now operates the Pioneer 1 and Pioneer 2 liquids extraction plants near Fort McMurray, Alberta, a fractionator near Redwater, Alberta, and a pipeline system that connects these facilities.

The Pioneer 1 extraction plant, which began operations in 2002, processes off gas from oil sands upgraders. The Pioneer 2 plant began production in February 2016 and is committed to boosting domestic NGL production while reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2).

Challenges with field devices

The "connected plant," with its promises of smart equipment sharing data and allowing manufacturers to make informed business decisions, can only be a reality if instruments are properly set up and successfully connected to the plant's network. Commissioning and configuring field devices typically is one of the final, critical tasks before a plant can be formally started up. However, completing these tasks accurately and on time often winds up being a critical hurdle before actual production.

Configuration and commissioning must be performed for each device-each with many configurable parameters. With many devices in a typical process plant installation, technicians have mountains of data to enter and verify. For example, a typical guided wave radar level and interface transmitter has more than 500 parameters to configure.

During commissioning and startup at Inter Pipeline's Pioneer 2 facility, approximately 700 HART instruments from different suppliers were connected throughout the plant. However, intermittent failures occurred with specialized radar and magnetic level measurement instruments. These devices are part of a crucial safety control system in voted configuration, whereby taking sensor signals and comparing them in the central processing unit (CPU) and executing the application logic accomplishes the voting elements.

Inter Pipeline's lead instrumentation and control engineer, Japan Shah, stated, "Voting degradation on Pioneer 2's safety system had the potential to cause unwanted downtime and also lowered confidence in the installed instrumentation. This situation was unacceptable to plant management and created an urgent need to an effective device troubleshooting and maintenance solution."


Figure 1. Inter Pipeline’s Pioneer 2 plant is a testament to innovation in the production of NGLs and olefins, and the reduction of emissions.

Integration and data delivery agility

To optimize device configuration and commissioning and ensure the continued safety of plant personnel and assets, Inter Pipeline's project team employed FDT for smart instrumentation information monitoring. Recognized as an international (IEC 62453), North American (ISA-103), and Chinese (GB/T 29618) standard, this enabling technology creates a common communication method between devices and control or monitoring systems for life-cycle management-to configure, operate, maintain, and diagnose intelligent assets.

FDT remains one of the automation industry's best-kept embedded software secrets. It is not a communication protocol, but rather an integration and data delivery technology powered by an open architecture that is independent of protocols and vendors. This allows seamless interoperability and integration in support of fully connected operations. The data collected by various management systems from field instruments and other assets can be used to schedule preventive maintenance-avoiding costly plant downtime from breakdowns.

Ongoing advancement of FDT leverages major developments like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 through the FDT IIoT Server to help end users realize the potential of decentralization, interoperability, integration, as well as a unified view of all data and functions across process, factory and hybrid control applications.

FDT technology comprises two main software components: the FDT Device Type Manager (FDT/DTM) and the FDT FRAME. The FDT/DTM is a software component for an intelligent device or communication component within a digital network. It is similar to a device driver (like the driver used to set up a new printer), which is created by the instrument supplier, who has the most knowledge of the full capability of the device. DTMs can range from a simple graphical user interface for setting device parameters to a highly sophisticated application that can perform complex calculations for diagnostics and maintenance. They include a user-friendly graphical interface to simplify device configuration, maintenance, and troubleshooting. Their simple and clear interface standardizes the training required to configure an intelligent field device-shortening setup time and reducing configuration errors.

Conversely, the FDT/FRAME provides access to all devices, gateways, and communication components with single-point access to operational assets. It can be embedded in any control system, configuration tool, or engineering application that needs seamless access to the installed base of intelligent devices. This component allows DTMs to extract performance-driven data from all connected devices and multiplexers on a control network.

Inter Pipeline used FDT/DTMs to ensure field devices were precommissioned and configured properly. Device manufacturers provide FDT/DTM software for their products, and the FDT/FRAME communicates and reads those DTMs-regardless of protocol-for each device. This enables complete life-cycle access for configuration, operation, and maintenance, no matter the supplier, device type/function, or communication protocol.

Inter Pipeline monitored and troubleshooted multivendor instruments at the Pioneer 2 facility using PACTware software. An open-source program available to members of the PACTware Consortium, PACTware functions as a frame or "container" application that instantiates DTM driver objects (including displaying the device user interfaces) and allows connections between them. It is intended for flexible parameter adjustment of field instruments, remote I/O, and communication modules in digital bus systems and networks. It supports integration and interoperability capabilities that allow users to operate field devices from different manufacturers and communication protocols with a single, standard PC-based application.

PACTware is a simple solution for device configuration, and at the same time, it provides a path from basic applications to complex asset management. The incorporation of .NET technology not only enables greater independence from the hardware platform, but it also opens up new opportunities for a more advanced graphical user interface.


Figure 2. Today’s “connected plant” can only be a reality if instruments are properly set up and connected to the plant’s network.

Addressing instrument failures

Inter Pipeline instrument technicians integrated DTMs with PACTware software to investigate, analyze, and correct instrument failures. In doing so, they eliminated spurious trips during startup of the Pioneer 2 facility. According to Shah, personnel at the Pioneer 2 facility found that using DTMs did not require a high level of technology expertise, but rather provided graphical access to smart device measurements and diagnostics for quick problem identification and resolution. "Device DTMs proved to be valuable when configuring and troubleshooting complex instruments like radar and magnetic level gauges," Shah said. "Technicians were able to see the devices clearly, know their condition in advance, and act with agility throughout their workflows."

DTMs support a more robust diagnostic capability than Device Descriptions (DDs) and Electronic Device Description Language (EDDL), which provide minimal information on how to address malfunctions and configuration issues with smart instrumentation. The DTMs are a handy tool for less experienced technicians to solve instrument problems in a short time.

Device suppliers can embed intelligence in a DTM in a way that is very difficult to accomplish with DD files, such as graphical constructs that cannot be expressed within DD technology. Moreover, the DTM is specific to the device and revision, so it has knowledge about the particular version of each device on the control network. For example, magnetic level gauges installed at the Pioneer 2 plant have a DTM interface with a user-friendly troubleshooting menu. Being able to set sensitivity values through the intuitive DTMs helped resolve device performance issues and allowed personnel to do remote configuration, trending, and diagnostics.

In another instance, guided wave radar instruments had problems during tank filling. Personnel could adjust signal suppression and other parameters via DTMs. They gained visualization of echo curves, trends, and vessel configuration, along with the ability to store, review, save and email data on instrument configuration.

Simon Huang, lead electrical instrumentation tech for Inter Pipeline, believes FDT technology will be an effective, long-term maintenance and operations solution for the Pioneer 2 facility. He said, "Our site maintenance teams now use DTMs as a day-to-day tool to tune a wide range of process and safety instruments-ensuring the plant runs without downtime, and, most importantly, stays safe. Personnel can remotely monitor the health of installed assets from a laptop in the control room without having to endure harsh conditions in the field."

Rakesh Keezhuveetil, DCS engineer at the Pioneer 2 site, stated, "The combination of measured values and device diagnostics helps in identifying specific deviations in operation and instrument performance, and has substantially reduced troubleshooting time. This capability also allows the rapid segregation of the team that must act to address issues involving maintenance, operation, or processes. When an adverse situation arises, online information is crucial to mitigate the source of the problem."


Figure 3. The FDT/DTM has a user-friendly graphical interface to simplify device configuration, maintenance, and troubleshooting.

Advancing innovation

Inter Pipeline has continued to advance the innovation of the Pioneer 2 plant by achieving a flexible device configuration and commissioning capability, as well as a higher level of efficiency across its maintenance and troubleshooting work practices. Key to these improvements was the implementation of FDT technology to make certain all installed assets are used to the best of their ability. The facility has significantly reduced device commissioning cycle times and improved the quality of configuration. Operators, engineers, and technicians can now be confident in the reliability of their plant's safety system and instrumentation loops.

Figure 4. Monitoring and troubleshooting multivendor instruments at the Pioneer 2 facility was performed using PACTware software.

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About The Authors

Glenn Schulz joined the FDT Group as managing director in July 2009. Most recently, he was the managing director and vice president of engineering at Dorner. For thirteen years before that Schulz was an executive at Rockwell Automation with responsibilities that included the process industry asset management businesses. At Rockwell, Schulz was a vice president and the secretary of the board of FDT Group. Schulz was instrumental in establishing the legal, nonprofit structure of the FDT Group that culminated with incorporation in Belgium as an AISBL.

Schulz’s diverse technology career has spanned roles including electrical engineering, software engineer, reliability engineer, college instructor, engineering management, marketing and sales management, general manager, and vice president. He has numerous design credits, articles, and patents in the automation field.