A United Industrial Network

March 24, 2015
The availability of the Field Device Integration developer tools signals a new era of device interoperability in process automation.

The bitter fieldbus wars of years past are but a faint memory in this decade as the providers of communication protocols and device integration tools have come to a truce in the name of network compatibility.

Still, there have been different camps—from Fieldbus Foundation to Hart Communication Foundation to Profibus & Profinet International—and the turf wars of device intelligence technologies Electronic Device Description Language (EDDL) and the Field Device Tool (FDT). While there is compatibility, it comes with extra work for the suppliers and end users who must maintain control systems and devices that may adhere to similar standards, but don’t always speak the same language.

At some point process manufacturers waved a white flag and requested—no, demanded—order in the automation house. This year marks the beginning of network neutrality.

In January, the FieldComm Group was formed, combining all of the assets of the former Fieldbus Foundation and the Hart Communication Foundation. This follows the formation of the FDI Cooperation in 2007 by the two groups leading the FieldComm effort along with the FDT Group, Profibus & Profinet International, and OPC Foundation. Together, the cooperation developed a unifying technology called Field Device Integration (FDI).

From the FDI website: “FDI technology will provide a common solution for managing information of intelligent field devices for the various tasks associated with all phases of their lifecycle, from configuration, commissioning, and diagnostics to calibration. This makes different solutions for different devices obsolete. FDI is a truly unified solution that addresses end user requirements across the spectrum.”

(Applause, applause.)

This month, the FieldComm Group—which becomes the caretaker of FDI technology—announced that the FDI specification (submitted as an IEC standard), as well as FDI developer tools and common host components, are now available for automation suppliers to develop FDI-compatible systems. The FDI technology includes a collection of files around device definitions, business logic and user interfaces. It is based on EDDL, but is engineered from the ground-up to be compatible with FDT.

So, what does this mean?

It means mixing and matching device packages in a single host system. It means all networks are supported. It means full integration with no compromises on features or compatibility.

“It’s a clear path of compatibility for end users to select best-in-class devices,” says FDT Group’s managing director Glenn Schulz.

At the core of the FDI specification is the FDI device package that includes everything a host system needs to integrate an intelligent device. A single FDI device package can scale according to the complexities and requirements of each device, making it easier for automation suppliers to develop and integrate device information and configurations across a wide range of host systems and protocols.

In addition, according to the group, control system manufacturers can also now implement FDI host components such as device management tools, asset management tools, or process automation systems. The host components enable rapid development and ensure FDI device packages behave consistently across different systems.

All of this is good news. Manufacturers can get back to making quality products without worrying about device compatibility. And while it may be a little while before we can measure the results of an FDI deployment in a live process environment, one thing is clear: The network divide is no more.

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