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Field Device Integration – built to last

02 May 2017

Control Engineering Europe gets up to date on the latest developments for FDI, which aims to harmonise EDDL device integration languages.

FDI (Field Device Integration) was developed by a cooperation of process automation suppliers, who got together in a bid to resolve a file management problem experienced by many end users when integrating control systems and associated instrumentation –  too many files!  There are, for example, over 250 files associated with a single FOUNDATION Fieldbus enabled flowmeter.  

FDI offers greater compatibility of EDDL-based (Electronic Device Description Language) networks such as HART, Foundation Fieldbus, Profibus & Profinet, allowing these networks to be more easily integrated with each other. It also allows EDDL-based systems to be integrated into a host of other industrial networks, via FDT technology.

FDI technology was approved by IEC as a global standard – IEC 62769 – in 2015 and the specification is now co-owned by FDT Group, FieldComm Group, OPC Foundation and Profibus International.

FDI specification developers set out to create an information model that collected all the files associated with a device into several categories:

• Device Descriptions (EDDs) that are required to inform the host system of the attributes and parameters enabled in the device.  Often different hosts (e.g. AMS, Field Device Manager, etc.) require different EDDs.
• User Interface Descriptions that integrate with the host and provide enhanced graphics and control interfaces for the device.
• Documents, including operating manuals, installation guidelines, certifications, country registrations and many others.

Historically, users have been forced to determine the files that they needed for their system. “Moving to a single technology for the configuration, maintenance, alert visualisation, and data access of smart field equipment is an imperative for the automation industry,” explained Peter Zornio, chief strategic officer at Emerson Process Management. “With FDI technology, all the files and tools for a single field device are encapsulated into a single structured file entity known as an FDI Device Package.

A technology for the future
Driven by the ever-increasing demands for process automation data from information systems, users are beginning to develop their desired architectures for more open interfaces.  Initiatives like the NAMUR Open Architecture, Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Exxon Mobil’s Open Architecture Industrial Control System project, and the Open Group’s Open Automation Forum all seek to break down proprietary architecture barriers between field devices and ultimately cloud-based computing platforms.

Recognising this trend the architects of FDI partnered with the OPC Foundation to include in the design of FDI several OPC UA specifications that define field devices and field device integration in the context of FDI technology. Specifically, they share the same information model that defines the context of field devices in process automation. The goal is to ensure that as systems evolve an open pathway to field device information is assured. “FDI is the migration path for traditional field instruments into the Internet of Things, Services, and People,” said Thoralf Schulz, global technology manager for ABB.

Ensuring interoperability
In addition to managing the development of standards, FieldComm Group devotes significant resources to the development of test specifications and execution of specification compliance testing for field devices manufactured by its members. Devices carrying the HART registered or FOUNDATION Fieldbus Registered marks undergo hundreds of hours of testing to assure compliance with specifications. But what about the host systems?

In January this year, FieldComm Group made two significant announcements.  The first related to the availability of its product registration service for FDI Device Packages and FDI Compliant Host systems. The second announced the first host system to successfully complete the FieldComm Group host system registration process. 

Official testing and registration of FDI compliant products is important as it ensures robust, compliant solutions that meet or exceed the industry requirements. It also offers a level of assurance to end-users that the product will operate as expected, regardless of manufacturer.

FieldComm Group is anticipating that many of its member companies will be joining ABB and Emerson and will start to ship products that are compliant with the FDI standard before the end of 2017.  

“Within FieldComm Group, our member led Integration Working Group continues to develop standards to enhance FDI and make the technology accessible to a broader range of users,” said Ted Masters, president and CEO at FieldComm Group. “As the home of FDI, FieldComm Group manages the product roadmap to continue to develop and manage the software and tools that members can develop products around. The Integration Working Group helps an otherwise small group of technology experts become a global center of expertise with leading member technologists to keep the path to FDI on the cutting edge of innovation and integration with future emerging architectures. The team is currently enhancing the OPC UA FDI information model specification to provide semantics for machine readable information. When complete, this specification will allow cloud based applications to process field device information without extra configuration.”  

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