FDT: The ‘Right Technology at the Right Time’

Author : Michael Babb, Control Engineering Europe

07 June 2010

The FDT Group entered the year 2010 with a lot of momentum behind it: standardisation of the concept, new technology for users and developers, more complete infrastructure, and plenty of significant applications in the field.

The beginnings of what is now the FDT/DTM technology standard started with discussions among major process automation vendors nearly ten years ago, when it was seen as a new path for communication with intelligent field instruments.

Those were the early days of fieldbus, which was at that time the most promising new technology in process automation since electronics replaced pneumatic instruments and computer-based distributed control systems became available.

But as process automation users adopted fieldbus, they found there were gaps in what the new communications technology provided. FDT began filling those gaps. As Glen Schulz the Managing Director of the FDT Group says, it ‘unifies and simplifies’ and delivers ‘real value’ from asset intelligence.

And because the industry did not settle on one universal fieldbus, FDT has provided another benefit for users: with nested communications it allows interoperability among disparate networks, helping to bridge the gaps between industrial automation networks.

In June 2009, The FDT specification unanimously passed the vote of the international standardisation community represented by 26 national committees to become an International IEC Standard - IEC 62453.
New developments
The companies involved in the development of FDT are excited by what they are calling ‘FDT 2.0’, the next major step in the technology.

‘ifak system GmbH has been active in the development of the FTD specification from the very beginning. At the moment we are actively involved in the development of the upcoming FDT2.0 standard,’ says Thorsten Szczepanski managing director.

‘FDT 2.0 moves the base technology from DCOM to .NET thus securing continuing operating system support. It addresses main issues that evolved during the last years like performance, security and life cycle support.’

In the early days, development of DTMs was a tedious and complicated process, best left to the specialists. Soon, DTM developers—and this includes nearly every industrial instrument and device manufacturer in the world—will have the latest tool called FDTExpress, which is a development environment that fully incorporates and self documents the updated standard.

At a recent developers’ conference Ralph Schmidt of M&M Software used FDTExpress to demonstrate how a basic DTM could be developed in 30 minutes.

‘The integrated development environment will allow us to bring our DTMs to market more quickly,’ said Ralf Schmidt of Krohne.

And for devices that do not have DTMs but are described with a DD/EDD, CodeWrights offers a solution: the iDTM, which interprets DDs and thus enables the integration of the devices into an FDT frame application. It was originally developed to integrate HART devices into Endress+Hauser’s FieldCare, but the technology has been expanded to Profibus and Fieldbus Foundation and can be used with any FDT frame application.

‘In our opinion the end users will be more and more asking for more general DTM solutions,’ says Dr. Rolf Birkhofer Managing Director of CodeWrights. ‘Through our interpreting DTMs (iDTMs) we have already shown a simple and universal way for such requirements.’

‘The possibility to create communication topologies throughout different protocols is a key to our DTM development. As of we are focussing on general approaches to create DTMs, we can transfer our knowledge and expertise from one communication protocol to the other. This is really a progress in productivity.’

New application stories
While the engineers and technical specialists are excited about new developments in the technology, significant benefits have already been achieved with the current generation of FDT/DTM, as the reader will see in three articles—one each from Europe, North America, and Asia.

In the Netherlands story, we see how the technology is being used in conjunction with the ‘world’s largest DCS’ to provide a continuous stream of diagnostic information to the maintenance department responsible for the country’s largest gas field. To read this article, click here.

In the U.S.A., four huge furnaces have been equipped with Fieldbus Foundation technology, and all of the instruments were configured on a desktop computer well in advance of commissioning the project. The furnaces will be in full operation in the summer of 2010.

And in Singapore, we have a chance to look at an FDT-based asset management system overseeing 10,000 Profibus-connected instruments in the ‘world’s largest wastewater treatment plant.’

The FDI buzz
The idea of FDI (Field Device Integration) is largely due to the work of Prof. Dr.-Ing. Klaus Bender of itm; who proposed to combine the functionality of EDDL with FDT using a client/server architectural approach. Based largely on discussions of these ideas, the FDT organisation joined the EDDL Cooperation Team (ECT) in 2007 but significant progress was not made until last year, when major DCS and instrument manufacturers ABB, Emerson, Endress+Hauser, Honeywell, Invensys, Siemens, and Yokogawa decided to throw their support behind the concept.

The FDT team has been working to develop software to ensure that the FDI package, when it reaches its final form, will smoothly operate in an FDT frame, including the newer FDT 2.0 version. This has involved the creation of a special DTM that will process the information coming from the FDI package (in the form of a binary DD), and will be available as a standard component from the FDT Group.

FDT certification
FDT Certification checks that the Device Type Manager (DTM) or the Frame Application adheres to the FDT specification and that it will be interoperable with other certified FDT products.

‘This ensures a smooth project implementation, with minimal trouble and gives the end user the freedom to choose devices that provide maximum plant assets efficiency without being restricted by system integration constraints,’ says Suriya Kumar Selvaraj, of Yokogawa Electric in Singapore, and the head of the test and certification committee.

For conformance testing, there is the software tool, dtmINSPECTOR used to check for conformance to the specification — in fact, it is the ‘official’ test and certification tool of the FDT Group. Supplied by M&M Software (the sole distributor), Christian Gnädig, sales manager international of M&M, says these tools will be upgraded for FDT 2.0 and Windows 7 applications.

A big advantage of M&M’s conformance testing tool is that it helps to find the problems, if there are any, in the DTM under test. It logs all the test steps and guides the user to the logbook entry where an error occurred. It also has an extensive debugging facility, so interactions can be monitored directly. This is important because DTMs are highly interactive with the end user.

‘As the leading software supplier for FDT/DTM development services and tools we are of course deeply involved in the specification and design of FDT, and have been for more than ten years,’ says Mr. Gnädig.

‘For the currently ongoing evolution of the FDT standard to version 2, we already have a detailed roadmap for its products and services that will be available. For M&M Software customers this means a maximum of planning dependability for their FDT 2 developments.’

Another software tool, frameINSPECTOR checks the FDT frames for conformance against FDT Specification. frameINSPECTOR is now released and  FDT Group reports that Endress+Hauser’s ‘FieldCare’ is the first certified frame application in its catalogue.

Another important aspect of conformance is the Style Guide, which explains the guidelines and rules for the implementation of a DTM with regard to the user interface and its behaviour. ‘These guidelines are intended to ensure that all users are provided with clear and consistent user interface and will become mandatory with the FDT 2.0 specification,’ explains Mr. Selvaraj.

The FDT Group reports there are now 43 companies delivering certified DTMs. These companies have over 2,300 devices that come with a DTM. Certification will become even more important as some companies, such as BASF Nederland, now clearly indicate they prefer to purchase only devices with certified DTMs.

Interoperability testing is more complex, because it involves a much larger combination of DTMs working in frame applications. There is a permanent test and certification test laboratory at Dietz Automation in Neukirchen, Germany. Remote testing via the Internet is now a possibility. 

Life cycle policy
Realising the problems that may be caused by automation systems running for ten to fifteen years, with a mixture of hardware and software components — some updated, some revised, at different levels — the FDT formed the Project Group ‘Life Cycle Support’ in 2007. It is now a part of the ‘Technology & Marketing’ group, chaired by  Markus Schade of Weidmüller. He says each component follows its own life cycle during which it might change as a result of bug fixes or including new features.

Since all these components are interacting with each other (e.g. DTM with a device (firmware) and a FDT Frame Application) a single component has various dependencies to other components, and these need to be minimised.

For this reason the Life Cycle Support group has been working on guidelines to ensure the interoperability between system components during the life cycle. The document describes rules for vendors of FDT based components that have come from a detailed analysis of user requirements and workflows to ensure that integrated automation systems can be maintained over their life time with minimum effort. It focuses on the needs of the process automation industry at the present time, but can similarly be applied to factory automation concepts. They will be released for publication in the summer of 2010.

FDT and factory automation
One major difference between the EDDL and ECT groups and the FDT organisation is that the former are largely focused on the process industry, while FDT addresses a broader segment which includes factory automation.

Much work remains to be done on the EDDL side of the ECT in the area of harmonisation of DDs for different fieldbuses, and when this is completed, the FDT Group will be in a good position to offer a complete solution for the industry. It will offer a standard way of incorporating EDDL in FDT.

And, in addition, it will also support dozens of factory automation networks that are not supported by EDDL — along with the ‘tens of thousands’ of factory automation devices that are also not supported by EDDL. Thus, according the Glen Schulz, ‘the role of FDT as a standard that brings together other industry standards in a homogenous environment takes another important step forward in the industry.

Glen Schulz: FDT is ‘The Complete Game Changer’

The industrial and process automation landscape continues to become more replete with new network standards, richer device intelligence, and more advanced control applications. This sometimes dizzying technical growth creates complex technology, architecture, and standardisation decisions that can befuddle the most astute users. 

How does one best leverage a selection of fieldbus and network standards, easily extract value from the intelligence in the instruments, devices, and machines in the installed base, and seamlessly propagate these benefits across the configuration, control, diagnostic, maintenance, calibration, and decommissioning portions of the life cycle?

That is what we strive to do every day with the open FDT standard. It unifies, it simplifies, and it delivers real value from asset intelligence. Automation manufactures have embraced it and it is widely deployed in all sizes of customer applications around the world.

At the core of the FDT standard is the support of nearly every process and automation network standard. At present count we support more than fourteen public standard fieldbuses with more in the works. But the FDT standard doesn’t simply allow them to coexist—with a feature we call nested communications the standard allows seamless end to end communications across the disparate networks. The FDT standard provides true interoperability.

For the better part of ten years, we have observed the growing intelligence of the field devices. The value has remained elusive however, without extensive custom programming or choosing only devices ‘preferred’ by the host supplier.

The FDT standard has been a complete game changer. It allows the device manufacturers to provide the rich graphical drivers that give you configuration wizards, advanced real time diagnostics, calibration guidance, and more. We call these smart drivers DTMs. With the FDT standard, you can pick the best in class device manufacturers for your application.

I hope this short introduction to some of the benefits of the FDT standard inspires you to investigate further. Lift the lid on the benefits, the technology, the users, and the supporters. You will like what you see.

To read the article "DTMs open the landscape for plant maintenance" click here.

To read the other two articles in our FDT series, click on the links below.

Commissioning Like a Pro

Technology with Added Value

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