Moving asset management to the Cloud

02 December 2019

The FDT integration standard is about to transition into an information exchange platform which will enable cloud-based asset monitoring for field devices. This will reduce maintenance costs, improve asset reliability and provide useful information to personnel in a timely manner, says Suriya Selvaraj.

Today ‘smart’ field devices have become the eyes and ears of automation. They provide ever more information and transmit it, via bus systems, to other components in the control network. However, the failure of a device can quickly lead to a malfunction of production equipment.

Traditionally, asset performance monitoring approaches involved monitoring devices for evidence of incorrect operation, pending failure or the need for calibration. This was undertaken with asset management programs or custom-written programs hosted on a desktop or client/server architecture based within a single facility. Users received reports for actionable items and could utilise status displays showing where attention was required.

Today’s IIoT-based asset management solutions typically include condition monitoring, predictive maintenance, asset integrity management and reliability-centered maintenance, and often involve technologies such as asset health data collection, visualisation, and analytics. They improve upon traditional asset management through deeper integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and computerised maintenance management systems (CMMS) – driving efficient and accurate maintenance work orders.

Accessible from smart mobile devices, IIoT-based solutions provide immediate awareness of performance/health issues. The tools also make documentation and diagnostics immediately available. Technicians can view current versions of electronic manuals and device status while in the field.

The collection of data at a central point in the cloud has key benefits for the transparency and analysis of asset performance information. By establishing a single infrastructure to support multiple facilities, organisations can leverage global expertise, spread costs between different stakeholders, and improve overall system availability. Centralised data access allows users to run various statistics for a comparison/benchmarking of individual production lines or plants. An expert at one location can provide more value by being able to consult with other facilities.

In addition, the use of mobile devices for viewing data allows operators to react quickly to unexpected events, changing environments, and continually optimise their bottom-line results. 

Optimising assets
The specialised equipment required for industrial manufacturing has become a focal point for concerns about operational efficiency, preventive maintenance, and costly failures. This explains why cloud-based asset management solutions are becoming an essential tool for operating companies of all sizes.

The FDT Group has demonstrated that open industry standards bring value. FDT is the industry’s most widely deployed asset management solution, with tens of millions of FDT/DTM-enabled devices in use and hundreds of thousands FDT/FRAME-enabled host/systems installed worldwide. Experience has shown that FDT/DTMs are a universal tool for lifecycle management of any device/network in the process and discrete automation markets. Indeed, they are intended for smart devices providing data-driven business intelligence. Their data allows for predictive maintenance models for effective asset support strategies.

The emerging FDT IIoT Server (FITS) standard – set for release as part of the FDT 3.0 offering – will further empower the intelligent industrial enterprise with native integration of the OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA), as well as Control and Web Services interfaces for mobile applications. FITS encompasses a robust security solution to safeguard critical automation information and operating data. The standard provides enhanced protection measured via robust multi-layered security, and leverages industry standards such as Transport Layer Security (TLS), Web Sockets Secure (WSS) and Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS).

Platform independence allows FITS to be utilised in a host of operating within the .NET Core framework. This results in an FDT Server that is deployable on a Microsoft, Linux or iOS based operating system. The solution enables cloud, on-premise, edge and desktop deployment methods meeting the needs of the process, hybrid and discrete sectors.

The FDT Server is built around a Core Server, which serves as a center point for range of client/server interactions. It includes an OPC UA Server providing access to DTM data with authenticated OPC UA Clients, and a Web Server enabling the use of web user interfaces on remotely connected, browser-based clients and mobile devices. The solution also supports the use of apps that improve workforce productivity and plant availability.

Users can connect an FDT Server in the cloud to one or more plants with a secure virtual private network (VPN). This approach ensures full authentication and data encryption, and automatic tunneling through networks allows the system to directly talk with devices in the field. It also enables remote diagnostics by authorised users.

A key feature of the FITS platform is a cloud-based DTM repository, which enables all certified DTMs (based on FDT 3.0) to be automatically downloaded from the cloud for use in on/off premise and desktop applications. The repository provides DTM/App storage and device management, as well as secure data transfer and messaging with proactive user alerts when DTM updates are available. The repository eliminates the headache of distributing DTMs, and instead provides a secure portal allowing vendors to authorise/de-authorise customers; view reports and download history; and upload, update, remove, or suspend DTMs as needed.

Operational advantages
With the FITS solution, industrial asset management becomes more empowered thanks to better diagnostics and easier access to device information, reducing downtime improving meantime to repair (MTTR) performance. Users will be able to take advantage of secure and seamless data exchange/interrogation from sensor to cloud and achieve new levels of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) integration. For device vendors, next generation DTMs will provide fit-for-purpose solutions for tasks such as deep inspection diagnostics and prognostics enhanced driven by artificial intelligence.

All DTMs based of FITS comply with the NAMUR NE-107 recommendation, which stipulates that operators need a view of the process including the status of the instrumentation in a simple and uniform way – regardless of source device – to support predictive maintenance strategies. 

Its platform-independence means that FITS will benefit companies that operate plants with a diverse array of automation systems and devices. It supports real-time monitoring and predictive maintenance applications requiring uniform access to field devices across platforms. The technology also supports enterprise control so that a single cloud instance can address multiple facilities to reduce costs, minimise overhead and centralise administrative tasks.

With FITS, field device data and information can be automatically provided for transport into cloud-based applications. This opens up the way for condition monitoring functions to be realised as cloud-based applications – independent of the automation system. The collected data can also be transferred for further processing in monitoring systems.

Going forward, adoption of the FITS platform will also create opportunities for asset management as a service, with service providers completely managing the cloud environment and implementing a variable cost model based on the number of users and assets to be covered.

Suriya Selvaraj is VP of Technology at FDT Group.

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