Fieldbus is here - are you ready?

Digital-based protocols, such as those used by fieldbus technology, are finding their way into a wider range of plant automation technologies. Can they be implemented at your plant?

By Joe Conklin, Fieldbus Foundation

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round the world, manufacturers are implementing FOUNDATION fieldbus in a wide range of plant automation applications. Fieldbus allows process control strategies to migrate to the field level and frees higher-level resources for real-time production control. But how do companies prepare for implementing this revolutionary technology and deliver significant performance and business benefits?

Over several decades, plant personnel have seen controls evolve from pneumatic, to analog, to distributed and programmable logic, and finally to digitally-based protocols.

As industry adopts fieldbus technology, technicians must increasingly understand terms such as "Function Block" and "Device Description.” In a real sense, the functions of plant personnel have combined as fieldbus has introduced a field-centric approach to process automation and relocated control functionality from central control systems to intelligent devices in the field.

Unlike a traditional control system, fieldbus also supports predictive/preventive maintenance. Fieldbus instruments with embedded diagnostics can quickly identify the source and nature of various malfunctions. Device self-diagnostic and automatic reporting capabilities reduce the need for routine maintenance that, in some cases, would require the removal and reinstallation of properly performing equipment.

Key to the success of a fieldbus installation is the ability to effectively install and service fieldbus equipment. Because of the field-centric approach of Fieldbus, installation, maintenance and troubleshooting can vary somewhat from what plant staff is used to. For instance the installation of FOUNDATION fieldbus devices is simpler. Troubleshooting can be accomplished remotely and maintenance can be predicted over time. Fieldbus can look different to your field personnel and the elimination of analog based tools can cause concern. So, to get the greatest benefit, some training on fieldbus specifics usually makes sense.

For companies that recognize the need to instruct engineers, technicians and other staff on fieldbus technology, the most obvious source for training is the Fieldbus Foundation based in Austin, Texas. A global, not-for-profit trade consortium, the foundation offers training courses for both fieldbus beginners and advanced users. Elsewhere around the world, other qualified organizations deliver foundation-certified training to today’s diverse industrial community.

The Fieldbus Foundation’s training curriculum starts with the Fieldbus Overview, a basic introduction to FOUNDATION technology using actual fieldbus equipment. Topics covered include: fieldbus concepts, wiring, basic messaging, function blocks and applications. Those interested in FOUNDATION fieldbus from an application standpoint benefit from attending this course.

The foundation also conducts an Advanced Technical Workshop, which provides in-depth coverage of FOUNDATION fieldbus, including demonstrations of a working fieldbus system. Topics include: physical layer, data link layer, fieldbus access sub layer, network management, system management, configuration, fieldbus message specification, and development of FF function blocks. This course is intended for device developers, test engineers, and those needing a detailed knowledge of FOUNDATION fieldbus.

For more information about FOUNDATION fieldbus training, visit this link: http://www.fieldbus.org/productsandservices/training/scheduleprices/registration2003.pdf.

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