Bridging Legacy and the New Era of Automation

Automation strategies are evolving in the face of a competitive global economy. The systems that control our industrial infrastructure are becoming increasingly integrated and interconnected, requiring a greater degree of standardization at all levels of the control architecture through the IT layer.

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While the FDT standard has enjoyed increasing adoption, in its more than 10 years of continual improvement, there have been significant advances in the information and automation industries. Global topics such as mobility, security, advanced physical layer, IIoT, Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing are at the forefront of industry related news. Additionally, the push to build the next generation, multi-vendor automation systems has added pressure from users to modernize based on open standards that have a secure, interoperable architecture.

Today, there are many existing standards widely adopted in the industry to help build the next generation automation systems. FDT/DTM (FDT Technology), built with an open architecture concept so it could evolve to meet industry demands, provides vendors and users with a single standardized asset integration solution for today’s information driven operations.

Recent technology enhancements improve control system security while enabling faster execution for large installations with thousands of input/output (I/O) devices. The updated standard (FDT2) that maintains proven FDT heritage adds many benefits that can be merged with legacy products. Existing installations can be improved without altering installed equipment. This strategy reduces “rip and replace” scenarios when using different eras of field equipment and enables coexistence of new and existing software.

The FDT Group’s Board of Directors is charged with the strategic leadership of the organization for the benefit of the members and the industry served. This is a crucial responsibility, especially when envisioning the technology roadmap for the FDT standard. The technology roadmap benefits vendors and users and covers key integration requirements that will innovate the new era of automation in both the factory automation and process worlds. Today the board is looking at the following areas:

  • Optimizing Field Device Integration: From its origins, the emerging Field Device Integration (FDI) standard was designed to be compatible with FDT. The FDT Group’s solution optimizes the benefits of both technologies to meet the needs of plants employing multiple industrial network protocols across the enterprise. While FDI supports four DD protocols, FDT Technology currently supports 17 communication protocols. FDT is open, allowing other standards such as FDI to be integrated with any communication protocol used in process and factory automation.
  • Improving cyber security: The FDT Group has established a comprehensive cyber security infrastructure to address potential cyber attacks on plant automation assets. A series of best practices enable FDT solutions to be implemented in a way that avoids possible threat vectors, providing unparalleled protection when integrated in control system vendors’ applications and hosted within a secure end-user IT platform.
  • Increasing worker mobility: The standard helps end users deploy the functionality of FDT on leading mobile platforms. Placing information and control in workers’ hands increases visibility so plant processes and productivity can be transformed to achieve new production and maintenance levels.
  • Harnessing the Industrial Internet of Things: FDT Technology will play a vital role in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) by creating a single system infrastructure that standardizes the connection of best-of-breed industrial communication networks, automation systems, and devices. Remote access to connected machines, production units and devices will drive operational performance improvements.
  • Supporting the 4th Industrial Revolution: Innovators of the Industry 4.0 and Modular Automation initiatives chose to adopt the FDT standard with the goal of unifying system engineering, configuration and diagnosis. That’s because FDT supports seamless routing across different networks in the plant automation hierarchy. The innate capabilities of FDT combined with standardized architectures for smart automation eliminate the need for special methodologies to allow higher-level systems or external applications to obtain information from field devices.
  • Expanding enterprise connectivity: Collaboration involving the FDT Group and the OPC Foundation leverages their respective technological strength. OPC provides a uniform interface for many different client applications, whereas FDT provides network/device configuration and access to devices. The FDT2-OPC UA Industrial Device Information Model™ (iDIM™) will enhance the configuration of networks and devices and give the enterprise access to data without the complexity of protocol-specific handling.
  • Implementing cloud connectivity: FDT Technology’s method of communicating device and machine data using the iDIM provides an effective combination of local control and monitoring with global overview and aggregation. Its consistent device model is ideal for cloud applications, enabling users to engineer devices with minimal overhead and a low cost structure. Whether operating locally or in the cloud, FDT helps put “Big Data” in context and supports better and faster decision-making – reducing critical failures potentially costing millions of dollars.

The FDT Standard is a comprehensive and widely adopted asset integration standard for factory automation and process systems. By providing solutions for today’s applications with migration ability for the next era of automation, the FDT standard is your ‘source’, transforming device intelligence to operational excellence. I look forward to sharing the progress in the roadmap areas mentioned in a future issue of Device Integration Strategies.

Lee Lane
Chairman, FDT Group Board of Directors

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