FDT Technology Development: Expanding the Horizon of Device and Network Integration

Jan. 25, 2016
Optimized integration standards add more capabilities for safe and secure Industrial Internet of Things

In today’s competitive environment, intelligent information in installed smart measurement devices is the answer to achieving operational excellence. Industrial organizations have documented the many powerful benefits of integrating device information with control or asset management applications to improve plant reliability, reduce operating costs and optimize process performance.

FDT Technology holds the key to integrating a wide range of devices and networks in today’s complex process automation architecture. Ongoing development of this technology, driven by growing instrumentation supplier involvement, is enabling end users to realize the true potential of decentralization, transparency, integration, and a unified view of all data and functions within the manufacturing enterprise.

History of Progress

Established by the FDT Group ASBIL, an international, non-profit corporation consisting of leading process and factory automation companies, FDT Technology has reached numerous milestones in becoming the most widely certified standard in the industry. A “who’s-who” of major end users has implemented this open and standardized solution to obtain seamless device, network, and application integration across their plants and factories.

FDT Technology is comprised of two primary software components—the Device Type Manager (DTM) or driver for smart devices, and the Frame Application, which can be a stand-alone configuration application or asset management solution. DTMs developed by instrumentation suppliers provide a graphical interface to support configuration, diagnostics and troubleshooting of critical measurement devices and other assets. The Frame Application provided by system suppliers hosts DTMs used for management of all the smart devices on a wide variety of process and factory networks within a facility.

Recognition as a standard: Over the last decade, the FDT Group’s specifications have been incorporated in the international standards IEC 62453, ISA103, and China GB/T 29618. Industrial firms around the world have found FDT simplifies device/system assimilation at all phases of the plant lifecycle. The technology enables interoperability of device information in facilities with multiple or hybrid communication networks to improve reliability and lower costs made possible by harnessing the valuable data held in these intelligent assets (See Fig. 1).

Adoption by leading suppliers: All major instrumentation suppliers now provide DTMs for over 40 different FDT-enabled interface applications such as stand-alone configuration applications, control systems and asset management applications. Indeed, the steady pace of certifications for compliant products is evidence of the technology’s growth. The FDT Group membership exceeds 100 automation vendors who have included FDT Technology in more than 8,000 devices supported by over 500 certified DTMs.

The FDT Group’s certification process ensures the compliance of different types of DTMs with the FDT specification. Independent labs carry out the certification test procedures, and the FDT Group audits the labs. Device certifications are issued upon successful test completion.

About FDT2™: The FDT Group is committed to improving the FDT standard with innovative technologies, while making configuration easier and faster than the already robust previous generation. The FDT2 offering provides a simplified interface to enhance suppliers’ compliance with the standard. It incorporates .NET technology and includes a platform for future applications and features. FDT2 “common components” create a library of FDT routines to simplify the development of FDT-based products and the certification of DTMs (See Fig. 2).

Today, leading instrumentation suppliers across the globe are releasing a wide range of FDT2 DTMs. Additional Frame offerings are expected on the market throughout the coming year.

It is important to note that all FDT2 Frames are compatible with all generations of DTMs, providing full backwards compatibility for the existing installed base of FDT Technology. This solution eliminates “rip and replace” scenarios in applications utilizing different eras of field equipment allowing new and existing software to coexist.

Current Technology Outlook

The FDT Group has continued to advance its non-proprietary technology to keep pace with the changing requirements of the factory and process automation industries. Recent enhancements to the FDT standard enable faster execution for mega installations incorporating thousands of input/output (I/O) devices, as well as improved control system security.

The visionary outlook for FDT Technology, focused on benefitting instrumentation suppliers and end users alike, includes:

Optimizing Field Device Integration: The FDT Group was one of the founding members of the FDI Cooperation LLC organization to develop a single common solution for Field Device Integration (FDI). Once guardianship was moved to the FieldComm Group, the FDT Group, along with the OPC Foundation and Profibus International, will continue to help maintain the technology. The FDI standard addresses integration of process automation networks based on Electronic Device Description Language (EDDL). It defines a collection of device information known as a Device Package, which consists of a bundling of the Electronic Device Description (EDD), an optional graphical user interface, and optional attachments such as certificates and datasheets.

From the beginning of its development, the FDI standard was designed to be compatible with FDT Technology. The FDT Group’s approach optimizes the benefits of both technologies to meet the needs of plants employing multiple industrial network protocols across the enterprise. In the FDT-based architecture, the FDI DTM is the enabling software link to the FDT framework application, which acts as a DTM. For many FDT Frame manufacturers, this opens up an economically attractive migration route to FDI. This approach makes it possible to utilize any device driver for devices on any network or fieldbus as part of an integrated system. Any number of DTMs can be loaded into the FDT enabled host (See Fig. 3).

With enhanced FDT2 Technology, automation equipment suppliers are able to provide device integration solutions without compromises. FDI Device Packages can run directly on FDT-enabled host systems, ensuring a simplified migration path to future operating system platforms while maintaining the integrity of backwards compatibility for plants encompassing an assortment of drivers, such as DTMs, EDDs and DDs.

Thanks to seamless FDT/FDI integration, end users benefit from the best of both worlds: the choice of a preferred device driver (e.g., DTM, FDI DP) supporting process applications, and the ability to communicate with all common industrial networks. Hybrid networks become much easier to manage and expand when standards handle the many facets of connecting devices to a diverse group of networks.

Improving cyber security: With the rising threat of malware in open computing platforms, the typical industrial control system is increasingly vulnerable to outside modification. Cyber-attacks on plant automation assets have not only increased, but have grown more sophisticated in recent years.

The FDT Group has established a comprehensive cyber security infrastructure not only for the sake of the FDT user community, but also for the automation industry at large. A third-party security investigation was undertaken to identify potential risks to FDT standards or tools. The first phase of the investigation has been completed, with the second phase focused on analysis of common components for companies developing DTMs and Frame Applications (See Fig. 4).

The FDT Group is currently compiling a series of cyber security best practices to help members implement FDT solutions in a way that avoids possible threat vectors. In addition to an Audit Team to provide an independent perspective on security enhancements, the organization has established an Incident Response Committee to help it ensure timely communication for active issues and provide a vision for long-term security activities, as well as a technical group within the Architecture and Specification Team responsible for a security framework for the development of new specifications and tools.

Increasing worker mobility: Just as mobile devices are transforming the way consumers communicate, connect, shop, bank and work, mobility solutions are dramatically changing the landscape of today’s manufacturing plant. With visibility, information and control literally in workers’ hands, plant processes and productivity are transformed.

The FDT Group is working towards understanding the requirements for mobile device connectivity to the industrial shop floor. A recent survey analyzed member requirements for mobility solutions in plants and factories. This information is being used to formalize technology requirements and use cases, which will assist in implementing mobility features to the FDT standard. The goal is to enable end users to employ the functionality they appreciate in the FDT standard on all of the leading mobile platforms (See Fig. 5).

Harnessing the Industrial Internet of Things: There is no question that improvements in plant reliability and performance are driving the need to connect and use real-time information from installed intelligent assets. To this end, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will provide seamless integration of the physical and digital worlds through networked sensors, machine learning and big data. The promise is remote access to connected machines and devices to realize transformative operational and process performance improvements.

The FDT Group’s mission is closely aligned with the emergence of the IIoT. It centers on developing a standardized, open and yet secure integration approach for devices and networks for manufacturers. FDT Technology will play a vital role in the IIoT with applicability across industrial communication networks, automation systems, and device suppliers. The FDT Group is working with other standards bodies to find a method to universally enable and abstract device connectivity, and is actively pursuing enhancements that will help improve manufacturing with a more agile and productive environment.

Supporting Industry 4.0: The industrial sector continues to seek a more efficient and productive future, where smart factories use information and communications technologies to digitize their processes and reap huge benefits in the form of improved quality, lower costs, and increased efficiency.

The concept of Industry 4.0, announced at Hannover Messe 2011 in Germany, addresses the so-called 4th Industrial Revolution that is being spurred by the Internet. It points toward intelligent, networked systems, which combine previously separated production environments to produce a universal production world combining a physical nature and the functionality of web connectivity.

The FDT standard has been written into the initial architectural document for Industry 4.0. The technology supports seamless routing across different networks in the plant automation hierarchy. This eliminates the need for special methodologies to allow higher-level systems or external applications to obtain information from field devices.

Collaboration involving the FDT Group and OPC Foundation leverages their respective technologies where they best fit. OPC provides a uniform interface for many different client applications, whereas FDT provides network/device configuration and access to devices. FDT solutions enable unification of system engineering, configuration and diagnosis in Industry 4.0. They support Industry 4.0 devices, but are also able to build a bridge to Industry 3.0 networks and devices.

With creation of the FDT2-OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) information model, networks and devices can be configured in a normal engineering tool using DTMs. Information provided by the DTMs (e.g., device type, parameters, I/O, supported DTM functions) complete the information model. The FDT2 extension increases the richness of the information model while leveraging OPC UA servers, which are omni-present in automation architectures to transmit and route information. OPC UA servers can also use device DTMs to access data without the need for protocol-specific handling.

Implementing cloud computing: The trend of moving servers out of the enterprise to an external provider was made possible by incremental improvements in communications infrastructures, and by declining network traffic costs over recent decades. Increasingly, cloud computing is enabling a dynamic and flexible infrastructure to host computing resources and deliver them as a service on-demand. Since plant automation systems have to be adaptable and agile, cloud computing is a promising solution for industrial organizations.

The FDT Group’s approach to communicating device and machine data using OPC UA will provide an effective combination of local control and monitoring with global overview and aggregation via cloud computing—without the need for end users to develop their own global IT infrastructure. This technique will also offer the advantages of relatively quick deployment and minimal overhead cost structure.

Leveraging predictive analytics: Changes in modern industrial plants present new challenges in maintaining uptime. On the one hand, an ever-increasing supply of operational data is now available, which can provide insights into the health of production assets. On the other hand, dwindling domain experience places additional strain on production staff responsible for analyzing data in a time frame needed for improved uptime and reduced operations and maintenance costs.

Recognizing the need to optimize predictive maintenance strategies, the FDT Group has taken steps to leverage the power of predictive analytics in its tools and specifications. FDT’s support for smart instrumentation information monitoring optimizes the lifecycle cost of the plant while enhancing maintenance activities, increasing safety, and improving product quality. Instead of getting answers to operational questions in days or weeks, these answers can now be made available in near-real-time, helping operational personnel make better and timelier decisions that affect the business.


After more than 10 years of dedicated support by FDT Group members and end users, expanding product development efforts and valuable knowledge gained from practical implementations, FDT Technology has established itself as a critical solution for demanding automation applications. The open and interoperable FDT standard frees end users from the constraints imposed by field communication protocols; control systems; device suppliers; and the manufacturing environment— whether it be process, factory or hybrid.

Current FDT Group Technology developments are at the forefront of the automation market, addressing crucial areas such as security and mobility. Control and instrumentation suppliers are providing compliant solutions to help manufacturers monitor and manage their field devices with the same level of automation, efficiency and security found in IT infrastructure. FDT’s support for both new and existing device technologies and networks will help expand this horizon.

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