Smoothing out system integration issues

15 April 2016

Control Engineering Europe reports on the recent introduction of a multi-vendor solution which aims to ensure system integration in real-life situations through an extensive pre-testing program. 

In common with other industrial equipment vendors, Endress + Hauser has, for some time, been testing its own instruments against the most relevant control systems and fieldbus protocols before releasing a product. It is important that instruments integrate with all PLCs, DCS and control systems that are relevant to an instruments possible use. 

Open standards exist primarily to allow for the selection and combining of a variety of best-of-breed products. In order that this advantage is not reduced by potential integration problems, it is useful to test the interoperability of products in combinations that are frequently found in practice. This gives concrete and successful validated suggestions for the automation of processes along with documentation on how it should be implemented.

At sps/ipc/drives 2015 Endress + Hauser introduced its Open Integration Partner Program, in a move which it is hoped will result in more complete system testing, in a systematic way, in cooperation with other automation vendors. The program aims to promote cooperation between providers of industrial automation systems as well as open fieldbus communication and open integration standards organisations. 

“All of the existing integration technologies are very necessary,” explained Michael Ziesemer, chief operating officer at Endress+Hauser. “However, they are based on standards and standards are never 100% perfect! There will always be room for interpretation. In addition to testing against communication protocol requirements it is also necessary today to test against DTMs, FDI and DD packages.”

Ziesemer, explained the reasons behind the program: “All industrial control and field equipment needs to be tested against a variety of open integration standards – however this is often not enough to ensure that equipment works seamlessly together. Simply testing devices against the standard is not enough. In a real life application there will be multiple instruments that all need to connect to each other, with different software releases and with a number of instruments being interconnected, with different cables, different groundings, different termination resistors, different kinds of gateways interconnecting the bus with the control system. All of this adds complexity and the possibility of incompatibility within a system.” The basic idea behind the Open Integration Partner Program, therefore, is to determine the compatibility of a variety of system and network components, as well as field  devices such as instruments and valves when working together, before they are fitted in the field, to ensure compatibility resulting in a more organised and transparent solution. 

The Open Integration Partner Program will see a specified reference architecture, applicable in a certain industry application, partnered with a variety of system components in a typical plant situation. The system is put together, in the same way that it would be in the plant, and tested to ensure that everything works together as expected. “This initiative takes our traditional one-on-one component tests a step further,” said Ziesemer.

To date, eight companies have joined the program including AUMA Riester, HIMA Paul Hildebrandt, Honeywell Process Solutions, Mitsubishi Electric, Pepperl+Fuchs, Rockwell Automation, R. STAHL and Schneider Electric. 

The move is a timely one, as many big customers are already demanding pre-installed systems integration testing. “We are already working with Honeywell on a number of projects,” said Ziesemer. “Shell, for example, is pushing to ensure that the offerings of its suppliers are well integrated. We are currently in discussion with other companies and want to extend the program to include all systems and components where integration is relevant. To fill the program with life, in terms of content, specific customers will also be asked to join the program.” 

Reference topologies
Cooperation starts with jointly agreed reference topologies. Each reference topology is tailored to typical applications and the field communication technologies used in these applications. Depending on the industrial segment and market, the focus will be on typical requirements such as availability, redundancy or explosion protection, followed by the selection of system components and field instruments of practical relevance. This exact combination will then be tested and documented before it is published as a joint recommendation, giving customers concrete and successfully validated suggestions for automating their plant.

The Open Integration Partnership Program includes conformity and interoperability testing. Conformity tests verify products against the relevant specifications which ensures that the product is equipped with the necessary prerequisites for interoperability. Interoperability tests check whether each of two products has achieved the desired behaviour and open integration tests validate the interplay of all products in a reference topology following mutual integration tests.

This joint validation solution goes beyond the traditionally established conformity and interoperability tests and the program should offer benefits for all parties involved. “It will benefit everyone concerned, including machine builders, systems integrators and end users,” said Ziesemer. “It will no longer be necessary to work on an assumption that the instruments and systems will work together so will save machine builders and system integrators time. End users will benefit from faster start ups and more reliable systems. Suppliers will also benefit as it will reduce the need for plant visits to identify and solve integration problems in the field.”

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