FDT2 goes public

04 September 2012

The long-awaited public release of the FDT2 standard was announced at the Hannover Messe in April where the FDT Group AISBL took the opportunity to discuss some of its enhancements. Suzanne Gill reports.

FDT is an international technical standard, developed to standardise the communication and configuration interface between field devices and their host systems by providing a common environment for access to the features of FDT-enabled devices. “There are now over 3,000 certified FDT enabled devices,” said Glen Schulz, managing director of the FDT Group AISBL. “In addition, there are already tens of thousands of installations and FDT has been recognised by other standards organisations such as IEC 62453, ISA 103 and soon China GB/T.”

The new FDT2 standard, which has been built on Microsoft. NET technology, incorporates a host of new features requested by end users, while maintaining full backward compatibility with previous iterations of the standard, allowing end-users to make their own decision regarding the pace of migration to FDT2.

The primary concepts of FDT2 remain the same as in the past, with the DTM being a software device driver supplied by the device, gateway or network manufacturers. A collection of these DTMs are plugged into a Frame Application that uses them to enable device access. However, The DTM architecture in the new standard has been split into two halves, with the top half including all the graphical user interfaces. “One of the major features of DT is its rich graphical representation, where a device manufacturer is free to produce their own wizards and diagnostics using a DTM,” said Schulz. The other half of the DTM architecture contains the device model. “The DTM has been split to make the standard easier to work with. The graphical user interface does not talk directly to the business logic. The frame handles that communication instead. We are now able to physically separate the graphical user interface from the business logic, which enables a fairly lightweight client, distributed throughout the facility, which hosts the graphical user interface side of the DTM when producing client server architectures. The more heavy duty business logic is running on a central server.”

Common Components
Also announced at the event was the release of a range of Common Components for use with FDT2. These provide the software needed to implement the specification and their use allows companies to focus on the value added features of their own offering when developing FDT2-enabled products.

Common Components will be available for both DTM (device) as well as Frame application (host) development. These Common Components have been developed and tested together, to ensure interoperability and compliance with the FDT2 standard.

“A great deal of effort has been put into providing extensive code base for the FDT membership to be able to immediately start developing FDT2 products while maintaining backwards compatibility to previous versions of the standard,” said Schulz. “Products which incorporate the Common Components make it through the certification process much more quickly because most of the testing will have already been done with the Common Components. This will enable certified products to come to market much more quickly.” An end-user will also be more easily able to check on certification of their chosen FDT2 products too, as the DTM will carry its certificate with it in a digital form.

During a discussion about the features and benefits of FDT2, Schulz explained that all the existing protocols currently supported will also work with FDT2. There are a few more protocols in the pipeline too. Schulz explained: “The ISA 100 Working Group, for example, has started work and we are expecting an annex from them some time this year.”

The PLC environment
An annex was added to the end of the FDT1.2 standard to allow it to support PLC applications in factory automation applications. “However, a few key features were lacking from this annex for PLC vendors wanting to wholly incorporate the standard. These features have been directly integrated into FDT2 so all the features necessary to fully utilise the FDT2 standard in a PLC environment are now available.

“Another request from customers was for the physical as well as the logical organisation of the network to be available to them and this has also been formalised in the new standard.”

The FDT2 standard also benefits from some speed and performance improvements. It includes more granular data for faster data storage. It is now possible to undertake static functions due to the separation of the business logic and the graphical user interface, which makes it possible to run the business logic without starting up the DTM. “This allows the server to be used for other tasks such as asset management applications without showing any graphics from the DTM,” said Schulz.

Security has also been improved. All installations for any FDT application will be digitally signed. There is more granular DTM security, with the end-user now being able to complete the security settings. “The predefined levels of security have been replaced with a user-defined role which allows the end-user to define who can have access to certain areas,” said Schulz.

FDT2 was first conceptualised around three years ago, and the draft version was released at the Hannover Messe in 2011. It took another year to go through a final member review of the standard. “The delay has allowed us to add a few further features too, such as the more granular security and additional capacity,” concluded Schulz. “It also gave us more time to test the standard itself and its performance. We did more prototyping and testing which has really made the standard more robust.”

What does ARC say about FDT2?
A review of FDT2 by ARC Advisory Group says that there is a lot to like about FDT Technology and the new features of FDT2 which will further improve this field device interface that reduces the cost of acquiring data from intelligent field devices, delivering productivity improvements. With FDT2, manufacturers will be able to enjoy these benefits today with flexibility for future requirements.

ARC research has shown that new technologies and programs can fall out of favour in plants or factories due to difficulties at any point during the lifecycle. FDT 2.0 adds features that can help end users and suppliers manage these issues throughout the field device and FDT product lifecycle.

FDT2 uses a Microsoft .NET technology platform that enables fast and easy access to data while providing a stable platform for future enhancements. The Microsoft .NET 4.0 platform is designed to be independent of hardware architectures and operating systems (including OS changes by Microsoft). Other FDT2 enhancements include an updated style guide, pre-tested common components, distributed FDT Frame Applications sharing, and an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) that facilitates development of FDT products.
Certified FDT2 DTMs contain embedded, digitally signed proof-of- conformance certifications. Additionally, frame applications can be configured to alert IT administrators when an updated DTM is available, easing support of an installed device. These enhancements work together to improve interoperability, reduce supplier and end user costs, and ensure that all FDT-compliant devices will integrate out of the box with certified FDT frame applications and DTMs.

The planned inclusion of an OPC UA information model to be released in the near future will provide online data exchange between automation systems, asset management systems, and other plant and enterprise systems and applications. OPC UA technology uses a service-oriented architecture (SOA) that runs on Windows PCs, Linux, and other enterprise-level systems. By integrating FDT and OPC, users will be able to use OPC UA applications to send data to business systems, enhancing the reliability of asset information and providing a comprehensive view of asset bottlenecks that require attention.

The FDT Group is also working with other field communication organisations to develop a new FDI (field device integration) standard. The future FDI standard seeks to couple the use of electronic device descriptions (EDDs) with a graphical interface into a new industry standard.
The FDT and FDI groups are working in tandem to ensure future interoperability. The FDT Group believes that end users adopting FDT and the impending FDT 2.0 will have a substantial lead over their peers by being able to develop new work processes now that realise the most value from FDT-enabled asset management initiatives. Additionally, because FDT is suitable for all communication protocols, including discrete and sensor buses, end users have the flexibility to include discrete automation assets as their asset management initiatives expand.

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