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  • By Ted Masters
  • Executive Corner

End users benefit when standards organizations collaborate—especially regarding architectures, networks, and protocols—to deliver improved ease of use, simpler integration, and backward compatibility. But before discussing collaboration benefits, definitions of leading terms are in order.

An “architecture” is a framework of information models and application and communication protocols that effectively specifies a complete system. For example, OPC UA is a platform-independent service-oriented architecture. Components of OPC UA are frequently used in automation systems.

A “network” refers to the physical hardware or layer, and the associated communication protocols (TCP, IP, UDP) used to transmit data via the hardware. Ethernet and Wi-Fi are familiar examples.

An application “protocol,” for example as defined by HART commands, is a software standard defining various aspects of communication over a network. In some cases, one standard defines both the communication and application protocols, as with WirelessHART.

Collaboration landscape

A primary example of collaboration between standards development groups is the long-standing partnership between FieldComm Group and the OPC Foundation. This relationship extends back to some of the earliest efforts toward creating device descriptions for instruments, and more recently, for the process automation device integration model (PA-DIM) and the field device integration (FDI) standards.

In 2017, FieldComm Group began working collaboratively on a new information model exclusively for devices typically used in process automation. Hosted by FieldComm Group, the first release of the PA-DIM specification was in June 2020. The members of the PA-DIM working group are currently developing a new release of the specification to include additional device types. OPC UA technology helps define the bits and bytes of clients and servers that support PA-DIM.

Another collaborator played a key role in the creation of PA-DIM, as its user requirements were defined by NAMUR as part of its open architecture model. This is one of the first technologies designed from the bottom up for machine-to-machine communications between digitally transformed systems using semantic IDs.

The FDI standard is another example of collaboration to benefit end users. FDI provides a common approach for managing the integration of information associated with intelligent field devices to higher-level asset management and automation control systems for configuration, commissioning, diagnostics, calibration, etc.

FDI—including its specifications, tools, and registration procedures—is jointly owned by FieldComm Group and PROFIBUS & PROFINET International (PI). The OPC Foundation is a co-owner of the FDI specification with FieldComm Group, and the OPC UA Information Model for Devices specification is used within the FDI Server host component of the specification. The FDT Group is the final collaborator on FDI. All these organizations have a stake in promoting use of the technology with their specific automation networks and protocols standards.

FDI was designed for openness, including new automation protocols and incorporating innovative technologies. EtherNet/IP, ISA100 Wireless, and Modbus TCP are all supported within FDI technology, and in the past several years, FieldComm Group has collaborated with ODVA on several projects, one of which is FDI.

FDI is a notable example, but not the only one, of how member organizations within an industry can collaborate on technology advancement while maintaining support for their unique offerings and installed base.

This type of collaboration and competition benefits end users, because no single architecture, network, or protocol standard is the best fit for every application. Users need a range of choices for the best price/performance ratio and ease of use. Collaboration among standards development organizations provides the required flexibility by supporting FDI across a wide range of architectures, networks, and protocols.

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About The Authors

Ted Masters, president and CEO of FieldComm Group, has supported the process industry in leadership roles at a wide variety of technology companies for about 25 years. He has managed the growth and delivery of products, software, and service solutions to industrial markets. Masters’ career has been centered around converting operational data into actionable intelligence and helping users make better decisions to capture the value by integration into business systems and processes.