“Foundation fieldbus knowledge and skills are important to engineers that design and understand control strategy; they are also essential for technicians that support operations,” said Mark Dimmitt, curriculum development manager at Emerson Process Management. “However, a knowledge and skills gap has resulted between the expertise of engineers that are receiving the training and operations technicians, who are often overlooked. As a result, technicians develop some level of fear and distrust. Yet, we know that Foundation fieldbus technology is not difficult. It’s simply different than the traditional 4 to 20 technology. Time and again, we see technicians warm to the new technology once they have some basic training.”
“One of the challenges with fieldbus is that many students initially do not understand the engineering methodology for fieldbus systems, which is different than that of conventional I/O systems,” said Rolf Vahldieck, a process industries consultant at ABB. “This knowledge gap causes about 80% of fieldbus issues. Because of it, the full functionality of fieldbus technology in both operation and maintenance is often not used, so the full benefits are not realized.”
“We’ve found that most users and EPCs have very little Foundation fieldbus knowledge when they walk in for training,” commented Charlie Piper, a fieldbus program manager at Invensys Process Systems. “As a result, they often want to focus more on the basic engineering aspects of the technology, such as the mathematical calculations needed to determine the length of segments and voltage drops, than on how they are going to extract value from the technology. Beyond these technical details, users of fieldbus technology need to be taught how to use new tools to better perform maintenance activities for the field devices within their plants.”
To help meet the need for consistent, high-quality end user training on various aspects of Foundation fieldbus technology, the Foundation has collaborated with leading technical education institutions to create Foundation-certified training programs in locations around the world. Individuals who complete the appropriate programs at any of these institutions are recognized as a Fieldbus Foundation Certified Professional.
The Foundation-certified programs in North America are at:
- Lee College, Baytown, Texas, USA
- Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
- Tri-State University (TSU), Angola, Indiana, USA.
Here’s a quick overview of the programs offered at each of these colleges. Many of these programs can also be brought on-site to an end-user facility or customized to meet site-specific requirements.
The Fieldbus Center at Lee College offers fieldbus offers four different courses in fieldbus applications. These range from a basic, one-day introductory course to an intense full-week course. Three courses are certified by the Fieldbus Foundation. The facilities include a multi-million pilot plant that allow students to build fieldbus segments, configure devices and develop control strategies.
Joe Moody recently completed a fieldbus course at Lee taught by Carter. “This was an all around great class with a lot of hands on instruction. I found the troubleshooting instruction very beneficial,” said Moody. “The problems are plugged into a running unit and students must identify and solve the problem. This simulated real world challenges faced by technicians in the field, allowing students to put into practice everything covered throughout the semester. This also provided students an opportunity to get a better understanding of systematic troubleshooting techniques.
“Having no past experience with any fieldbus systems I took a lot away from this class. I found that fieldbus is a different type of control system with several benefits. The ability to trend, troubleshoot, and diagnose remotely was very impressive. However, the most valuable feature I found was the amount of information available from devices to quickly check a status and possible failures. There’s an unheard of amount of device information available at the console.”
SAIT offers three different fieldbus training courses. These include a one-day “Essentials” course, a two-day “Discovery” course, and a three-day “Practices” course. The Foundation fieldbus Certified Certificate is awarded upon successful completion of all three courses.
“The small class size at SAIT made the training very interactive and enjoyable for me,” said Jean-Francois Jobidon. The presentations had excellent visual animations which made some complex topics easy to understand. The hands-on labs aided and confirmed the topics learned in the course. I took away a very thorough understanding of how Foundation fieldbus works. I especially enjoyed learning how the fieldbus devices communicate to be able to implement control in the field. The training course also used state-of-the-art equipment one could only dream of having all at once.”
The TSU Technology Center offers Foundation fieldbus training that is standardized, but yet can be focused for the industries in the Great Lakes region. To provide this training, TSU currently relies heavily on a license agreement with the Lee College Fieldbus Center announced in April 2007. Under the agreement, TSU gained the right to use Fieldbus Center course materials and other intellectual property in its training curriculum. The two facilities also collaborate on educational development work, construction of lab facilities and demonstration equipment, and scheduling of fieldbus training classes.
Where’s It All Heading?
While the Foundation has examined and certified the individual fieldbus training programs at Lee College, SAIT, TSU and other facilities, each of these programs approaches the training differently. As a result, there’s little uniformity between programs or interchangeability between the different courses.
According to John Pittman, who in addition to his previous critical role at the Fieldbus Foundation, currently serves as Chairman of the TSU Board of Trustees, “The Foundation is working to make sure that there is a common core curriculum across all certified facilities to allow interchangeability across the different programs.”
Rezabek concludes, “In my mind, perhaps the biggest and most valuable benefit of formal training, today and into the future, is to establish a uniform fieldbus vision which might not otherwise evolve naturally as well as to help create to buy-in from the Luddite fringe.”
Paul Miller is a contributing editor to Control.