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  • By Anna Velena
  • Process Automation

Digital sensing devices built on open standards can significantly expand data visibility and improve an organization’s asset management process.

Plants rely heavily on their sensing devices, as timely delivery of measurement and process information allows personnel to operate in a controlled and consistent manner. As more plants evolve on their digital transformation journeys, intelligent field devices are playing an even more critical role in enterprise-level process visibility to improve performance across the organization.

Plant personnel typically manage hundreds or even thousands of devices in a single facility, requiring them to keep track of differing technologies and a wide range of device files. Updates, cybersecurity, and management all require significant knowledge of several technologies—ultimately slowing digital transformation by reducing the pace at which plants can perform device selection, installation, updates, and repairs.

To address these and other issues, an emerging technology—FieldComm Group and Profibus & Profinet International’s Field Device Integration (FDI)—is changing the way plants manage devices. FDI simplifies installation and management by supporting device and system interoperability. There is a single device package per protocol that is compatible with all host systems. 

Manufacturers are finding it easier to innovate, and end users will soon have a simpler path to implementation. FDI-registered solutions will significantly improve an organization’s asset management process, moving them closer to their digital transformation goals.

More devices will bring more asset management responsibility. Adding tens, hundreds, or even thousands of new sensing devices to a plant will increase management and calibration tasks, as well as the cost of engineering.

Much of this new responsibility will fall upon operators, technicians, and engineers—each of whom are already very busy. With retirements across industries creating a shortage of skilled workers, organizations will need to find ways to enable increased efficiency for available personnel. By staying ahead of the curve and beginning to work today with the systems that will be fully FDI registered soon, plants can reduce the amount of training and work necessary to gain the full benefits of FDI.

With this foundation in place, organizations can rapidly eliminate data silos, increase security, and streamline daily tasks—not only laying the groundwork for the plant of the future—but also readying the workforce for a new paradigm of operation.

What is FDI?

FieldComm Group is a global, standards-based, nonprofit member organization focused on digital open standards in the process industries. It has collaborated with industry foundations and suppliers like Emerson to develop FDI, an internationally standardized solution for process automation device and systems integration (figure 1). The standards FDI is based on include ANSI/ISA-62769-109-1, Field Device Integration (FDI) – Part 109-1: Profiles – HART and WirelessHart.

Figure 1. FDI takes the best features of EDDL and FDT packages and combines them into a single common standard, simplifying installation and reducing or eliminating device compatibility concerns.
A single FDI device package includes the device definitions, user interface plug-ins, certificates, and useful documentation. This information simplifies integration with field devices and FDI-enabled plant, enterprise, and cloud-based host systems. It also simplifies the selection, installation, and configuration of all field devices.

FDI support versus FDI registration

Manufacturers of host systems can build in the level of support for FDI they deem appropriate. As more manufacturers enable this support, users will have access to a wider range of devices and functionality in their device manager applications. However, because manufacturers can choose which individual features to implement on their FDI host systems, it is possible that some applications will support certain elements of FDI but not others. 

To get the full benefits of FDI, standards organizations are supporting FDI-registered applications. FDI-registered hosts have implemented all the FieldComm Group’s specifications and passed a rigorous testing process to ensure that required features are supported by the software.

More devices, fewer hurdles

Field devices are critical to digital transformation and Industry 4.0, because they provide the data required to help key personnel keep a finger on the pulse of the plant. As more devices arrive on the market and the number of digital devices in a plant increases, companies realize the advantages of Industry 4.0. To begin with, users enjoy new and better forms of visibility across the plant. As advanced analytics technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, become more prevalent, plants will need to add more specialized sensors, resulting in even more devices and data, all of which must be managed.

Organizations will need a seamless way to manage these field devices. Currently, two host technologies, EDDL and FDT/DTM, are available, forcing plant staff to double up on training, time, and effort. 

Doubling up on effort is expensive and time consuming, and it also tends to create data silos, which make it more difficult for operators and technicians to quickly find the data they need. These data silos create obstacles for effective predictive maintenance and limit visibility at the enterprise level, making it harder to take steps to improve operational efficiency.

An FDI device package removes the need for plants to choose between EDDL and FDT/DTM technologies. All FDI devices use a single software package incorporating the best features of both technologies. The single package contains device drivers, management applications, guides, diagrams, and manuals (figure 2).  With a single FDI device package, plant personnel can find all the functionality they need in a single source file. They do not have to search for multiple files in different formats.

Figure 2. An FDI package contains more than just device drivers. User interface plug-ins offer an optional graphically enhanced user interface, and attachments provide fast access to protocol-specific files, registration certificates, data sheets, and manuals.

Organizations can prepare for FDI by choosing an FDI-registered asset management system that can handle all the devices that are in—or will be in—the plant. The ability to support all a plant’s devices will enable the asset management system to act as a central repository for instrument information, eliminating data silos and increasing operational efficiency. In addition, organizations can seek out an FDI-registered asset management system with connectivity to enterprise systems (figure 3).

Figure 3. FDI-registered device management software, like Emerson’s AMS Device Manager, simplifies installation and management of devices, and improves system interoperability.

These asset management systems provide data to enterprise-level applications such as data lakes, where the organization can perform higher-level analytics to ensure the entire operation is running at peak efficiency.

Encapsulating security

Today, plant personnel may need to download drivers to configure, diagnose, and troubleshoot each device added to a plant. These files can be hosted in many places, with no guarantee they are uncorrupted (either before or after the download) due to intentional tampering or inadvertent changes. Insecure files introduce potential security and safety risks, making the plant more vulnerable to a cyberattack.

An FDI device package provides increased security through digitally signed certificates. If the application is FDI-registered, it will provide an essential baseline of security, regardless of the plant’s device manager software security features. Before beginning the installation of an FDI device package, an FDI-registered host system server will check the software’s certificate to ensure the files are authentic and complete.

Moreover, because all a device’s necessary files (device descriptors, advanced management applications, and documentation) are contained in one package, users will not need to search multiple places for the required files, reducing the risk of downloading compromised files from an unreliable source. Plant personnel can instead rely on one trusted repository (figure 3).

Knowing the move to FDI is on the horizon, plants can gain even more advantage from evaluating the cybersecurity features available in their asset management software. Implementing or upgrading to an asset management application that will be FDI-registered in the future, but that also contains out-of-the-box security features today, will improve the plant’s cybersecurity posture over the long term. Plants gain the immediate security improvement of signed files and can upgrade to further increases in security when they move to FDI.

Figure 4. Instead of scouring the Internet for hundreds of necessary files, users can simply download a single FDI package from a secure repository to obtain everything necessary for integration.

Automated daily tasks

Adding additional devices to the plant should make asset management easier, and not overburden already busy personnel. Device management tasks, such as calibration, audit trail management, commissioning, and testing, will all be essential for the many new assets that will become available with FDI. 

For example, the calibration management tools available in some device management systems will reduce the need for manual work, refining and speeding calibration procedures. This type of software helps users build calibration routes to establish ordered groups of devices for calibration.

Once calibration is complete, all data stored in the calibration tool is synced with the device manager software, and users can easily access and print reports. Technicians do not need to keep written notes, and they do not have to remember to copy data to the system manually. The device management system automatically documents, trends, and reports calibration data—preventing data drift and providing reliable audit trails.

The benefits of FDI-registered device management software will also extend beyond daily operations into capital project execution. Using a single host package with FDI will increase efficiency by reducing the time spent selecting the right devices and searching for files. 

FDI registration assures project teams that every element of the FDI package they use will be compatible with the device manager system—eliminating late-stage surprises that complicate projects, limit flexibility, and increase engineering time and costs. In addition, existing device management tools—such as smart commissioning—will increase this efficiency by speeding device binding, configuration, loop checks, and documentation, and help to take device installation off a project’s critical path.

Drive digital transformation

FDI will unlock a wide array of new device technologies in the coming decades, just as many plants will be ramping up their digital transformation initiatives. But control and sensing devices do not operate in a vacuum. The devices delivering critical data across the plant and across the enterprise rely on a solid system of support, and the backbone of the system is the personnel who keep it running at peak performance.

Taking steps today to build a solid foundation of support for new and existing digital technologies will help ensure everyone in the plant has the tools they need to keep devices and their associated assets running at peak performance across the plant’s life cycle. 

All figures courtesy of Emerson


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About The Authors

Anna Velena is the product manager for AMS Device Manager and has been with Emerson for 16 years. She has gained extensive knowledge of distributed control systems and asset management systems through progressively responsible positions in Emerson. Velena earned her BS degree in chemical engineering from the University of the Philippines.