FDT Technology Enables Enterprise Wide Integration Across Multiple Communication Networks

April 12, 2014
Streamline and improve resource planning with an enhanced view of network and device health.

Industrial automation equipment for both the process and factory industries continue to get smarter while networks carrying this smart device data are also becoming more complex. This increasing complexity is making it more difficult realize the benefits of improved productivity and efficiency. In many plants, the task of integrating many sophisticated machines on high-speed-networks is made more difficult by the presence of multiple communication networks. 

Ethernet has taken over the high end of network communications in many industrial facilities, but many of these plants still use one or more of conventional lower level bus protocols to link industrial equipment. It’s not uncommon for an Ethernet backbone to be linked to a hierarchy of networks that can include real time networks, DeviceNet, Modbus and lower-level networks like AS-i. This variety creates technical challenges for continuous device access across all levels.

Ease of integration

Smart device information and network integration are big buzz words these days. End users and the manufacturing community need an enabling technology that can help facilitate network integration for greater accessibility to bottom-line assets. 

FDT Technology is an enabling software application that handles the complex task of incorporating equipment from disparate suppliers on multiple networks.  With FDT, an application can vertically communicate with systems or devices regardless of the layers of networks that exist between the host and the target device. For example, Ethernet can be converted to an open communication network (fieldbus) then to a HART device(s) (see figure 1). FDT Technology transparently facilitates data information flow through all of the intermediate networks, including gateways, routers, and bridges. When the host requests communications with the end system or device, the internal mechanisms of the FDT standard handle the connections. 

FDT Technology comprises of two central components that provide integration assistance.  A Device Type Manager (DTM) is a device driver for smart instrumentation provided by the device supplier. Much like a driver used to hook up a printer, it contains the parameters of the intelligent device, communicating through networks, wireless links, USB peripherals and other connections to provide diagnostics feedback to the Frame Application/host system. An FDT Frame Application is an interface module developed by the system provider that resides in a host system and natively communicates with devices by opening the channel to allow information to pass through the networks, via DTMs. The Frame Application can be enabled to scan connected devices (with DTMs) across protocols when a communication path is open.  To ensure device information flow, all DTMs should be uploaded and registered in the device catalog of the Frame Application/host system.

FDT is an international standard that’s gained widespread usage in the industrial world.  Standardized as IEC 62453, ISA103 and GB-T China, FDT is the only open standard for plant integration across multiple networks for process and factory applications.  Currently FDT supports device and network integration for; PROFIBUS DP, PROFIBUS PA, HART, FOUNDATION Fieldbus H1/HSE, Interbus, PROFINET, Modbus TCP/RTU/ASCII, Ethernet/IP, EtherCAT, DeviceNet, ControlNet, IO-Link, ASInterface, CANopen, SERCOS III, CC-Link and ISA100 (see Figure 2). Support for this broad range of protocols gives network managers an array of options for both wired and wireless connectivity.

With more than 100 member companies as device and system/host suppliers, and end users in support of development of FDT enabled equipment, a wide range of products are allowing end users the freedom to choose best in class products for installation. There are presently over 7,500 devices supported by certified device DTMs (see the FDT Certified Product Catalog

Enabling visibility

Without integration across networks, vital device information is lost, ultimately making your plant tougher to maintain, resulting in down time and lost production.   Frame Applications are now available in most DCS, control systems, and asset management systems with associated DTMs being offered for smart devices. Manufacturing facilities can have continuous device access across all levels of the control system so maintenance teams and operators can view data from any node on the network from the control room or remotely from maintenance or other secure workstation.

With better device diagnostics, the maintenance team can quickly capture a snapshot of the health of networks and individual device assets.  When problems occur, maintenance engineers can diagnose the problem from a host system and often fix the problem remotely.  This facilitates a proactive maintenance strategy, decreasing plant shutdowns, increasing productivity and reliability.  “On-line diagnostics provided by these instruments does something more than preventive maintenance, ensuring stable operation of the system and increases the precision of control,” says József Bartók, automation engineer at MOL Danube Refinery. That contributes directly to bottom-line profitability.

For example, when the head pressure control was slow on one unit, it led to the assumption that a valve was stuck and in need of repair. Technicians, using on-line diagnostic tools interrogated the valve and found the intelligent positioner current-to-pneumatic converter was damaged rather than a problem with the valve itself. This fix took a half hour of instrumentation work, saving at least two days of unscheduled downtime, or at least $834,400. (see figure 3)

Versatile and scalable solution

Today many existing plants don’t have the budget to rip out equipment and start over, so they need to make better use of what’s already installed or update equipment. FDT Technology provides versatility so upgrades can improve the plant life cycle.  FDT Frame Applications and DTMs let users quickly reap the benefits from a point-to-point or single device approach by simply connecting directly to a device from a PC (see figure 4).  The Frame handles device configuration, maintenance and diagnostics. 

FDT provides the ability to start out small with a low start-up cost and migrate to larger applications (network wide information access) without a significant change during the scale-up. Regardless of whether a facility is old or brand new, FDT Technology can deliver benefits 24/7 during commissioning, maintenance, diagnostic and repair operations.

Enhancements focus on customer feedback

In all technologies, updates are a necessity.  In 2013, FDT responded to customer demands with an upgrade, FDT2.  The ARC Advisory Group predicts that most equipment suppliers will unveil compatible product DTMs and Frame Applications in 2014. FDT2 will bring additional benefits of the new version while maintaining backwards compatibility with existing FDT implementations. Benefits of the newer standard include a combination of increased speed, improved security, broader connectivity and ease of use, making it an even more compelling technology expanding capabilities.

With so many industrial technology advancements available – digital networks, smart instrumentation, wireless, and a bunch more - complexity will not go away. FDT can compensate for this complexity and simplify your enterprise integration strategy while providing greater understanding and knowledge of your network and device assets. With flexibility being a key benefit, every upgrade or new installation can migrate with ease when FDT is specified as one of the infrastructure elements in an industrial facility. FDT Technology is your tool to help align data information flow for resource management allowing an enhanced view of network and device health across communication networks. 

Improve your pathway to the future and make FDT a central component to gain enterprise-wide data information access in your industrial strategy.

For more information, visit: www.fdtgroup.org

To preview a FDT Integrated Brewery Application Demonstration, click here.

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