With more intelligent field devices populating the plant floor and a control system architecture that usually includes heterogeneous systems from different suppliers, the need for seamless integration and communication across the network is critical to future productivity.
FDT Group, an independent, international, not-for-profit industry association, has been developing technology to provide an open standardized interface for the integration of field devices with engineering, automation and asset management systems. The FDT (Field Device Technology) specification provides a common platform for data exchange for all available device drivers also known as Device Type Managers (DTMs) and FDT Frame Applications— both of which are software components whose functions are performed together. Suppliers add DTM software to their products, and compliant Frame Applications communicate via DTMs using digital protocols with each device. Any FDT-compliant device can be configured, operated, and maintained through a standardized user interface – regardless of supplier, type or communication protocol.
As with any spec, there are upgrades. The latest for FDT Technology is FDT2, introduced in 2012, which uses the scope of functions in Microsoft.NET and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and WinForms. Interoperability between DTM and Frame Applications are optimized, as well.
To help companies ensure compliance with FDT2, this week the group released dtmINSPECTOR4, a software tool designed to automate testing of DTMs. The updated dtmINSPECTOR enables manufacturers of field devices for process, hybrid and factory automation to optimize their testing and certification procedures based on the current FDT2 specification.
According to Glenn Schulz, managing director of the FDT Group, the release of this new testing tool opens the door to wider implementation of FDT2, including features for enhanced security and support of modern automation platforms. "The use of dtmINSPECTOR4 as part of a comprehensive test program will help meet market demand for FDT Technology and certified FDT2 DTMs on a wide range of automation projects," Schulz said. "Our testing solution enables interoperability between automation systems and field devices, and provides end users with greater peace of mind."
The dtmINSPECTOR4 software aligns with FDT Group’s Common Components toolkit, which provides developers with pre-written and pre-tested FDT specification requirements to speed product development, testing and certification processes. In addition, the testing software tool determines the conformance of all types of DTMs (communication, device and gateway), including test cases that ensure compliance with the FDT specification, Common Components and the Style Guide maximizing interoperability success.
Once the testing sequence is completed for a DTM with "passing results" by an FDT accredited test site, test results are sent to the FDT Group certification office where the DTM receives the official electronic certification mark acknowledging specification compliance.
The new dtmINSPECTOR4 tool is available to all FDT Group members for pre-testing DTMs during development and available on a no-charge basis with only an annual maintenance fee to provide for ongoing support of the tool.