Release of FDT 3.0 standard and toolkits helps advance digital transformation

10 August 2020

Following the recent launch of the FDT 3.0 – FDT IIoT Server (FITS) – standard, which has been developed by FDT Group to empower digital transformational benefits for automation suppliers and end users in the process, hybrid and discrete markets, Suzanne Gill spoke to Glenn Schulz, managing director at FDT Group, to find out more about the latest FDT developments.

The new platform-independent FDT 3.0 standard aims to enable an ecosystem of FDT-based solutions to meet demands for IIoT and Industry 4.0 applications. In addition to the new FDT 3.0 standard, FDT 3.0 Developer Toolkits have also been launched to help the vendor community jump start development efforts.

“By delivering the FDT FITS specification and platform independent toolkits simultaneously, we are enabling the immediate deployment of this technology. The FITS architecture is scalable from skid to cloud, sits at a peer level with the control system and integrates all industrial control networks. We believe that this approach provides secure, remote access to live device and network data across the enterprise without PLC/DCS host intervention. While the FITS standard is fully browser based, we have also built in a full OPC UA server to provide an industry standard conduit for IT and OT information integration,” said Schulz.

Over the years, the FDT standard has evolved from being a single-user, desktop environment to a distributed, multi-user client/server approach with OPC UA compatibility for enterprise-wide integration and asset management. The FDT 3.0 standard builds on this and empowering FDT Servers embedded with OPC UA and Web Servers.  “The new Server delivers universal device integration and a data-centric platform to mobilise the industrial workforce with modern and diverse deployment options, including cloud, enterprise, edge, on premise, and single-user desktop environments,” continued Schulz.

Commenting on what he thinks are the most important features of FITS for end users, Schulz said: “The foundation of FITS development has been the creation of remote access and mobility features – transitioning from a single user desktop environment to a full blown enterprise level system that can be accessed through standard browsers. We believe that the move from a physical device to a remote virtualised device offers huge benefits for end users – allowing them to configure, diagnose and maintain a device remotely. When we started working on FITS three years ago the remote access was an important element. However, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic the issue of remote access has taken on even more importance.”

The availability of software apps for FITS offers benefits for both vendors and end users . For example, for a maintenance organisation it would be possible to download an app onto a smart device that geo-locates where devices are within a facility so it is possible to alert engineers to any devices that may need attention. “A geo-locating app would make them more aware. We deliberately designed the FDT Server so that our vendor community is able to continue to extend their functionality through the creation of app solutions that  address larger business issues and unique operational requirements. 

“Large end users – such as those in the petrochemical sector – are now able to create their own special purpose apps taking advantage of the data that is made available from the FDT Server,” continued Schulz.

While there is already a huge installed base of device configuration methods such as DTMs and Device Packages, the supporting tools were built on Microsoft technology so they do require a Microsoft platform to run. Today HTML 5 offers a superior user interface rendering technology as well as server platform independence which is why FDT transitioned to this technology for FITS. To maintain compatibility, we are told that the desktop version of FITS will remain compatible with the old versions of the DTM – so it will be possible to freely mix older FDT DTMs on the desktop as well as FDI devices packages. The server version of FITS requires the use of FDT 3 DTMs  The FDT Group has already announced FDT3 interpreter DTMs that can read device description files such as the type used by the HART and IO-Link protocols. The FDT Group will be working within its FDI consortium to upgrade the FDI toolset to be platform independent and utilise HTML5 for all user interfaces – allowing the FDT Device Packages to run natively on an FDT3 server.

According to Schulz several large global customers have already set up FITS installations in collaboration with key vendors and it is hoped that the results will be available later this year. Until then, FDT is keeping busy working on a number an annexes. For example, it is working with ODVA on a new CIP annex for Ethernet/IP. It is also working on transitioning annexes to FITS and then it hopes to be able to start showcasing applications and products.

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