By DIPL.-ING. Dieter Schaudel, Principal, Schaudel Consult
Here's a question to consider: Will there be one standard for wireless and one standard for field device integration (FDI), one which deserves the name, not such scavengers as the fieldbus standards (IEC 61158 and IEC 61784-1)? My prognosis for both: No, this won't happen. And that's good! Single standards or no, the number of wireless installations will continue to increase. And hopefully, there will also be FDI installations within a few years if "Ethernet intrinsically safe" will not be available in its entirety by then.
Cortex or Reptilian Brain
The matter does not concern technology or engineering, even if in wireless discussions, a few things started floundering with the current debates on a revised version of ETSI EN 300328 (2.4 GHZ ISM-band). But both cases concern quite basic questions: Do you want diversity or monotony, coexistence or convergence, manufacturer benefit or user benefit? Or, to put it more pointedly, will the cortex (rationality) of the manufacturers acting in the respective standardization bodies and on the decision-maker level finally prevail over their reptilian brains (archetypal reflexes)? I predict that, as was the case in the so-called Fieldbus War (1986–2002), the reptilian brain will prevail again–despite the fact that the cortex is exercised fiercely at committee meetings.
"Never again a fieldbus war!" was a slogan preached again and again, including by me, during the last 10 years when wireless or field device integration for the process industries was at stake. Idle performance was supposed to be avoided, and consensus-oriented work was supposed to lead swiftly to rational solutions which corresponded to the wishes enunciated by users to the greatest possible extent.
If I look back today, about 25 years after the start of the Fieldbus War, I am not so sure anymore whether a marriage of convenience would have really been better at that time. In my opinion, the dispute concerning the alleged or actually "better" topology, the "better" protocol or the "better" certification strategy released creative forces for significantly more user benefit in manufacturers and users because "the best solution" for deployment is more likely to emerge from diversity.
Diversity Instead of Monotony
I am not so sure anymore whether the mantra of the professional standardizers of "kindly standardize prior to the generation of any innovation" is really correct. On the contrary. For example, whether the electric car will be propelled by power from electrical outlets or by hydrogen has, in my opinion, not been decided at all. Standardization ahead of this decision would be counterproductive. Steve Jobs would probably never have become the marketing icon of the 21st century had he waited until his two-finger spread technique on the touchscreen had become IEC-standardized. '
Finally, the professional standardizers have demonstrated currently again that, in case of doubt, the reptilian brain has to prevail. The attempt of the EU Commission to create a uniform organization for standardization was rejected by the national standardization bodies, first and foremost DIN, with fervor as if the end of the world were at stake: diversity instead of monotony, coexistence instead of convergence. After all, there are also positions (jobs) at stake.
The present excitement about the revision of ETSI EN 300328 (2.4 GHZ ISM) shows that the solutions for wireless have not been exhausted by far. Those who are presently concerned with the "Internet of Things," the "Industry 4.0" that is the next industrial revolution, which has just begun, know there will be (must be) even more wireless solutions.
Two or more wireless standards for process automation will not cause the decline of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, just as 12 fieldbus dialects did not do this. It seems to me much more important that, at long last, completely maintenance-free field instruments (wireless) are offered, so that the tedious discussion on batteries will finally come to an end.
And in field device integration? In my opinion, FDI—if the specification and certification work should be concluded at some time—is threatened to fail in application (not on paper) because the silverbacks will not be able to agree on one interpreter, irrespective of the type and architecture of the control system.
The reptilian brain at work.
There is also the threat that the intrinsically safe Ethernet will have established itself before the completion of FDI. And, apart from this, the providers of manufacturing automation are not the only ones who will avowedly refuse to depart from the FDT 2.0 status just achieved, while FDI discusses whether one is still allowed to even write the word "FDT."
Coexistence Instead of Convergence
This insight (coexistence instead of convergence) would, of course, entail consequences. First of all, many nice business trips, highly emotional discussions and president and director titles would be dispensed with. Secondly, the best brains would again be available to create new automation solutions for users which they do not dream of today, but of which they will say, as they receive them, that they had always wanted them (see iPhone, iPad). Thirdly, users, through NAMUR or the new ISA, would have to lay out more detailed and solution-independent answers to the question of what they want to have when. For as I know from reliable sources, the process automation experts of user companies have dreams and visions—you only have to make them talk, listen to them and act accordingly!
We are living in exciting times! Let's see whether the NAMUR annual general meeting will show courageously new paths in wireless, field device integration and mutual listening. or whether, in the same way as politicians are handling the debt crisis, muddling on is sold as a strategy. Reptilian brain or cortex; that is the question.