FDI: Opening up the integration process

25 June 2018

Find out more about how Field Device Integration (FDI) technology looks set to provide automation stakeholders with a better user experience and an open, future-proofed standard for integration of field devices with process and enterprise systems.

As the pace of digitalisation increases it created a significant amount of additional data. More sophisticated strategies are needed to manage the data now coming from intelligent devices and other sources, to determine what is relevant, and ensure that relevant data is made available to the appropriate systems.

Today’s complex process automation systems often need to integrate field instruments from a variety of vendors and this can result in significant effort for installation, version management and device operation.

The latest intelligent devices can also pose an information management problem, especially when there are devices on different networks with different underlying technologies for displaying and managing information.

Joint development
It was in response to the need for open and standardised device integration, that process industry foundations, including FieldComm Group, Profibus International, and the OPC Foundation, set out to jointly develop the FDI standard. The goal was to solve the problem of integrating disparate field devices with process plant networks, operating systems and control systems.

The creation of the FDI standard helps bring previously inaccessible data into commonly reported and displayed information. The specification is based on the IEC 61804 – Electronic Device Description Language (EDDL) standard for the description of devices. It takes account of the various tasks over the entire lifecycle for both simple and the most complex devices.

Its primary objective is to simplify software installation, configuration, maintenance, and management of field instruments and host systems. Modern field instruments often include a device information file that provides software access to the features and functions of the device, one or more user interface plug-ins that integrate with host system software to enhance the usability of the device with the host, numerous user manuals, installation instructions, and data sheets.

FDI standardises the packaging and distribution of all the software and tools necessary to integrate a device with a host system. All registered FDI devices are required to have an associated FDI Device Package – a collection of files including an Electronic Device Description (EDD)-based on IEC 61804-3, an optional user interface plug-in (UIP) based on Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), and instrument documentation and technology-specific files.

It supports protocols such as HART, WirelessHART and FOUNDATION Fieldbus, Profibus, Profinet and ISA 100.11a. Through standalone communication servers, additional protocols like Modbus and EtherNet/IP can also be integrated with the technology.

Recognising current trends in digital transformation, the architects of FDI have also partnered with the OPC Foundation to include several OPC specifications that define field device integration in the context of FDI technology. The intention was to ensure that as systems evolve an open pathway to field device information is assured. This allows end users to take the data and information models for the applications and devices supported by FDI technology and leverage OPC-UA information modeling and corresponding services for complete application-to-device integration.

Late in 2017 FieldComm Group and OPC Foundation formed an official working group around the OPC Unified Architecture (UA) to develop an OPC-UA FDI Device Information Model for process automation to define how the information of a field device – described by an Electronic Device Description (EDD) document – is mapped to OPC-UA Objects, Methods and Variables.

The goal of the working group is to standardise data, information, and methods for all process automation devices through FDI using OPC UA. The OPC UA base information model and companion Device Information (DI) specification will be extended to include the generic definition and information associated with process automation devices. This information model is at the core of the FDI standard, seamlessly integrating with OPC-UA to enable further integration with platforms like the Microsoft Azure IoT hub.

In essence, the FDI architecture brings field devices to the IIoT, with each device type represented by a Device Package. FDI specifies a Device Information Model and uses OPC-UA communication to enable other applications to access it. This model is the single access point for external applications. It also addresses cyber security with manufacturer-signed packages that hosts validate to ensure they are genuine and have now been altered.

Realising IIoT promises
With its device information model (set forth in IEC 62541-100), the client/server architecture of FDI technology provides all functions for modeling real devices as virtual objects for the IIoT.

IIoT applications can connect to the information contained within intelligent field devices – regardless of protocol – using FDI to integrate the information in a process control system, asset management tool or ERP system; visualise and evaluate the data; and then take action based on the information to prevent shutdowns, lower operating costs, reduce maintenance expenses, and become more predictive in how plants are run.

Control Engineering Europe has been told that a great deal of FDI products are now nearing the end of the official registration process and many of these instruments will be brought to market in 2018. So, it looks like very soon automation suppliers and end users will be able to apply a single integration technology that can translate the binary data delivered by any communication protocol into tangible information that can be displayed and used by systems at varying levels throughout the enterprise.

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