November/December 2013
Process Automation

Big changes ahead for Fieldbus Foundation on the eve of twentieth anniversary

Fieldbus Foundation to focus on usability, cross-industry cooperation, and the right work processes

Fast Forward

  • Potential merger between Fieldbus Foundation and HART Communication Foundation creates industry buzz.
  • Fieldbus Foundation focuses on enhancing usability for developers and end users.
  • ISA108 committee works to give users the necessary work processes to use digital diagnostics-the right way.
By Larry O'Brien

puzzleThe Fieldbus Foundation will celebrate its twentieth year in 2014. It is also a year of transformation into what could very well be a new organization entirely, with some very exciting developments for the world of intelligent devices and plant asset management. Today, the Fieldbus Foundation has more than 500 members and affiliates around the world. An installed base of about $10 billion in products and systems controls critical processes in the world's largest plants.

Because Foundation fieldbus is a truly open standard (anybody can purchase our specification or become a member), we can continue to adapt to new technologies as they come along and evolve our specification to improve what we already have. Some of the key ways we are moving forward for 2014 and beyond include discussions with the HART Communication Foundation regarding a potential merger of the two organizations, the development and release of the Field Device Integration (FDI) specification, a continuous improvement initiative called Project Gemstone focused on enhanced usability, continued work on the ISA108 standard for work processes that use diagnostic data from intelligent field devices, and the further development of the Foundation for  Remote Operations Management (ROM) specification.

Combining efforts

In our recent press release, the Fieldbus Foundation and HART Communication Foundation have signed a memorandum of understanding to look into the possibility of forming a new foundation focused on the requirements of digital communications and intelligent field devices for the process industries. This seems to be a natural fit for both organizations, and indeed many people in the industry have spoken to the Fieldbus Foundation over the past several years about the benefits of combining both organizations, which have a long history of cooperation. Combined efforts include the electronic device descriptive language cooperation team and, most recently, FDI.


FDI logoA combined organization of Fieldbus Foundation and HART technologies could better leverage the complementary benefits of the technologies. The new organization would create more cooperation and collaboration. In addition, we would have improved economies of scale through merging training and education; seminars; testing and registration; participation at trade shows, conferences, and events; online presence; and social media strategies. While these efforts are still in the exploratory phase and there is still a lot of work to do, this is obviously the biggest and most important development we are focusing on for 2014, and we will keep the process automation community abreast of our progress.

In the meantime, however, we continue to pursue a number of other initiatives, all of which are designed to make things easier for both end users and developers in terms of device development, usability, and getting the maximum benefit from Foundation technology. These include the FDI specification; Project Gemstone, which is focused on usability; our involvement with the ISA108 standard for work processes related to intelligent device management; our field demonstration program for Foundation for ROM technology; and our impending testing and registration of devices and hosts that are compliant with our Foundation for safety-instrumented functions technology.

Field Device Integration

At the core of the FDI specification is the FDI device package, which includes everything a host system needs to integrate an intelligent device. With FDI, each device is represented by a single package that can scale according to the complexities and requirements of each device. Each FDI device package contains a mandatory device description that provides parameter definitions, structure for the parameters for context-specific views, and automated work processes for device procedures such as calibration. FDI device packages may also include user interface plug-ins, software components that support advanced device setup, and diagnostic functions. Product manuals, documentation, images, electronic certifications, and other attachments may also be delivered in the FDI device package.

FDI device packages make it easier for automation suppliers to develop and integrate intelligent devices, because suppliers only need to create a single, unified package for each intelligent device that can work with all host systems and tools. This reduces overall development costs, while preserving and expanding existing functionality. Users will also find it easier to manage information from intelligent devices with a single device package, instead of juggling different technologies and investing significant capital in custom integration efforts to connect multiple technology platforms.

Project Gemstone

Project Gemstone is a continuous improvement project that the Fieldbus Foundation launched this past year. It focuses on making Foundation fieldbus easier to use for both end users and suppliers. FDI is a major component of Project Gemstone, but perhaps more important is the formation of a new group focused exclusively on usability. Like many of the activities at Fieldbus Foundation, Project Gemstone is greatly influenced by the requirements of our End User Advisory Council. End users have probably noticed the proliferation of such initiatives at many supplier companies, such as Emerson Process Management's "human-centered design" initiatives, and our usability efforts are very similar. The whole idea is to allow people to focus more on how Foundation technology can help them in their business versus managing the technology itself. The ultimate goal is making Foundation technology easier to use than 4-20 mA analog technology.

A great example of this is making device replacement easier. We have already made enhancements to our interoperability test kit that makes it easier for end users to replace "like-for-like" devices. In other words, if you are replacing a device with a newer revision level of the same make and model, we have automated this procedure to restore the configuration of an existing field device in a newer version of that instrument without manual intervention. Our next step is to tackle the issue of "unlike" device replacement, where the end user is replacing a device with the same type of device, but from a different manufacturer.

ISA108 puts work processes in user's hands

Ask most end users why they made the investment in Foundation technology, and they will tell you it was because of the advanced diagnostics capabilities of fieldbus devices. According to a recent survey by the Fieldbus Foundation and ARC Advisory Group, however, many users still do not invest in plant asset management applications that can truly allow them to take advantage of the diagnostic information from their intelligent devices and create a condition-based or predictive asset management strategy.

One of the primary reasons end users do not realize the benefits of intelligent devices is because they have not changed their existing maintenance work processes from the same ones they used with the old 4-20 mA devices. Most users do not even know what work processes should be adopted, or how those work processes should flow. The new devices and applications are installed, but the operators and technicians stick to their old way of doing things, their old preventative or routine maintenance practices. They never really take advantage of the huge amount of information available to them.

The ISA108 standards committee was formed in 2012 to address this issue and provide users with the knowledge they need to implement the right work processes and really get the life-cycle benefit out of their intelligent devices. Let us be clear that ISA108 is not a Foundation fieldbus-centric committee, although the Foundation is heavily involved. This project applies to anyone who is using intelligent field devices on any network. If you are interested in participating in the ISA108 committee, please contact Charley Robinson of ISA Standards (

Making sense of the diagnostics storm

Better diagnostics is one of the great promises of digital networking technology for field devices. All "intelligent" devices can provide some level of diagnostics. There are several key differences with Foundation fieldbus that make its ability to provide diagnostics unique. Two of these differences are the sheer volume and frequency of diagnostic data provided. Foundation devices can handle multivariable measurements and transmission of multiple diagnostic data at the same time.

The diagnostics do not stop at the sensor or actuator. Diagnostic data can be provided for electronics failures, configuration or servicing failures that are primarily human intervention issues, and application issues or process issues that affect the measurement. These multiple levels of diagnostics add up, until you could reach over 20 diagnostic parameters for Foundation fieldbus devices, with more complex devices and actuators having hundreds of parameters. To get useful information out of these diagnostics, you must have a good way to manage and organize this information. Some diagnostic parameters are manufacturer-specific, and at the end of the day, this can be a real challenge. Parameters from device to device may not be the same. Based on the root cause of a diagnostic, however, diagnostics can be categorized or assigned to different functional areas, such as electronics, configuration, or application.

The Foundation Fieldbus Field Diagnostics Profile specification was defined to make it easier for end users to access and configure the diagnostics in fieldbus devices, regardless of the manufacturer's device or system. The diagnostic profile includes a standard and open interface for reporting all device alarm conditions and has a way to categorize alert conditions by severity. The technology facilitates routing alerts to appropriate consoles based on severity categories selected by the end user. In other words, it sends the right information to the right person at the right time without flooding the operator with alarms that are irrelevant to his or her duties. The field diagnostic profile also gives recommended corrective actions and detailed help, as well as an indication of the overall health of the device. The Field Diagnostic Profile specification puts all the necessary mechanisms in place to provide context to diagnostic data and turn it into useful information.

A major part of the diagnostics specification is the inclusion of the NAMUR NE107 recommendations for providing diagnostic information in context to the right people at the right time. NAMUR NE107 categorizes internal diagnostics into four standard status signals: failure, function check, out of specification, and maintenance required (also known as FCSM). Each category can also contain greater detail. In the case of failure, for example, can the failure be traced to the device or the process? Is maintenance required immediately, or is the requirement for long-term maintenance?

PA Chart

NE107 standard status signals

The ultimate result is a series of new field diagnostic alarms that correspond to the four primary diagnostic categories outlined by NAMUR NE107.

Several standardized and therefore manufacturer-independent parameters are available to configure the NAMUR category, the priorities, and the filter mechanisms for the alarms. With NAMUR NE107 diagnostics built in, you can turn off diagnostics you do not need or configure how the diagnostics are reported. This supports the configurability mandate of NE107. Providing recommended actions and enabling simulation allows the information to be presented in greater context.

Foundation for ROM

Remote operations management is the management of automation assets and resources that are geographically dispersed. It is one of the fastest growing segments of the process automation business. Today, the ROM segment is plagued with a high degree of customization, solutions that are not easily configurable, and a break-and-fix mentality when it comes to asset management. Foundation Fieldbus has now expanded into the rapidly growing world of ROM, from the digital oil field to pipelines, tank farms, and floating production storage and offloading facilities.

Several years ago, the Fieldbus Foundation began a new project that would extend the functionality and infrastructure of Foundation fieldbus out to remote applications through the integration of remote input/output (I/O) and wired HART communications. We then expanded that project to include leading industrial wireless networks, such as ISA100.11a and WirelessHART. Working cooperatively with ISA, the Fieldbus Foundation has also specified a long-distance backhaul network technology based on standard high-speed Ethernet that connects remote assets with their command centers. Today, our overall Foundation for ROM specification is nearly complete and ready to extend our capabilities to manage data to a limitless range of networks and devices in some of the world's most unforgiving applications. Foundation for ROM is ready to address the rapidly changing business challenges of end users in remote operations.

The Foundation for ROM specification can be embedded into a range of products, including remote terminal units (RTUs), controllers, and remote I/O modules. Once the Foundation ROM specification is embedded in a device, however, its functionality expands to reflect a combination of the traditional functions found in wireless gateways, process controllers, and RTUs. Foundation for ROM devices provide the protocol translation functions of a gateway, but they go beyond the traditional functions of a gateway. They have the ability to represent these devices as transducer blocks in the Foundation fieldbus infrastructure and all the capabilities that it holds, including data management, alarms and events, data quality, and function block structure.

The Fieldbus Foundation, in partnership with our demonstration program sponsors, has been hard at work on a series of live field demonstrations to show the value of the technology. We had our first successful live field demo in April at the Petrobras Cenpes research facility in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Running on one of the many Cenpes pilot plants, the Petrobras field demonstration offered a look at the full functionality of Foundation for ROM, including wireless device integration, remote I/O integration, and wireless backhaul capabilities. This demonstration was the first step in showing the capabilities of Foundation for ROM before it is specified for commercial projects. We also performed a demo of the technology at the Automation 2013 trade show in Mumbai, India, in October, where we won the technology advancement award for the show. The equipment used on this demo will also be used at our next live field demonstration at the Reliance Jamnagar refinery, which is the largest single site refinery in the world and the largest Foundation fieldbus installation in the world. This demo is scheduled to take place in the first half of 2014.


Larry O'Brien ( joined the Fieldbus Foundation as global marketing manager in April 2011. Before his job at the Foundation, O'Brien was research director for process automation at ARC Advisory Group, where he began work in 1993. As an industry analyst and market researcher, he covered the topics of process fieldbus, distributed control systems, process safety, the automation services business, and intelligent field instruments. O'Brien has authored or coauthored numerous market forecast reports, strategic-level advisory reports, and white papers for ARC and its clients, including all the major process automation suppliers. He has a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.