ISA100.11a - Fieldbus Wars Round 2 Begins

To Directly Influence the Outcome of This Dispute, End Users Should Vote With Their Time by Participating in the Appropriate Standards Committees

By Ian Verhappen

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The ballot for 65C 714 Committee Draft Vote (CDV), which relates to standard "IEC 62734/Ed 1: Industrial Communication Networks—Wireless Communication Network and Communication Profiles—ISA 100.11a" has failed. The process begins to look like a reprise of the Fieldbus Wars of the 1990s, although, one hopes, not as acrimonious.

See Also: Plan Ahead for Wireless Success

The country-by-country voting results are interesting in that of the 22 votes cast, 19 Participating Member countries approved the standard, with 12 in favor (63.2%) and seven against (31.8%). The discrepancy in the voting numbers is caused by the fact that there are also five Observing Members among the 22 that count in the second criterion of overall voters. With the approval criteria being 2/3 approval of all Participating Member countries (12/19 = 63.2%) and 3/4 approval of both Participating and Observing Members (7/22 = 31.8%), the ballot was rejected under both criteria.

In addition to the vote results themselves, the National Committees (NC) provided about 194 comments of which 42 were editorial, with the balance requiring a technical resolution. The Working Group IEC 65C/WG 16 is responsible for resolving these comments. It held a meeting in January to begin the comment resolution process. At that meeting, 98 comments have been accepted and will be directly incorporated into the next revision of the IEC document. Fifty-nine comments were "accepted in principle/in part," and the remaining 37 were rejected by the committee. The next step will be to revise the CDV to incorporate the changes and then distribute a second CDV, probably in the April/May time frame. If this CDV is approved, normally after a five-month balloting period, a Final Draft International Standard (FDIS) ballot can be conducted toward the end of this year; therefore, the earliest that ISA100.11a can be published as an IEC standard is early 2014. ISA100.11a is still an ANSI-approved standard; however, it is also likely that the comments adopted by the IEC committee will be incorporated into the next revision of the ISA document.

See Also: Out Here in the Fieldbus

As the Canadian chairman for IEC TC65 and a member of Canada's SC65C committee, under which this standard falls, I found it interesting that "IEC 62657-2 Ed1: Industrial Communication Networks—Wireless Communication Networks—Part 2: Coexistence Management," in circulation over roughly the same time frame, was approved with comments and will be registered as an FDIS in May this year. There were a total of 25 ballots received for this CDV with seven abstentions, 22 P-Members voting, 20 affirmative (90.9%) and two negative votes.

Work also is ongoing in the area of coexistence by the major control systems suppliers that will have a positive impact on wireless field or sensor network reconciliation. This group, known as the "Heathrow team," may also work towards resolution of other issues difficult to resolve within the standard itself.

See Also: Mesh Topology in ISA100.11a

However, to really affect change, end users need to express their opinion in one form or another. Though some companies are doing large installations, I believe many are in fact voting by effectively saying, "We are going to wait until the standards issues are settled before investing in a significant way."

Voting with your wallet is certainly one way to vote. However, to make effective change and directly influence the outcome of this dispute, end users should vote with their time by participating in the appropriate standards committees. In the case of WirelessHART and similar trade consortia-driven standards, this is not directly possible at the standard writing level. However, it certainly is true with ISA-based committees which are mandated to have a balanced representation of participants. A third way to participate is to become involved in your country's IEC National Committee. In the case of IEC, practically all the automation-related standards are developed by IEC TC65 and its various subcommittees. 

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