BYOE: Bring Your Own (Fieldbus) Expert

End Users' EPC Firms Lack In-House Expertise, But Also Oppose the Idea of Fieldbus .

By John Rezabek

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Imagine this: Your nearby systems integrator or engineering resource provider contacts you to offer a free day of fieldbus training. Crazy! But that's what happened to us a few years ago when Matrix Technologies of Maumee, Ohio, offered to bring its show down the interstate to share with us and our neighbors.

While a few shops like Matrix can bring their own fieldbus experts to a project, the sad situation encountered by many end users is the opposite—their EPC firms not only lack in-house expertise, but they also openly oppose the idea of fieldbus or discourage it through inflated estimates and/or tales of woe. While this wouldn't have been totally unexpected 15 years ago, it's irksome that it remains so commonplace today.

In most cases, it's true that some increased engineering effort (thinking and analysis—presumably what clients pay for) is needed on a fledgling fieldbus project. Processes are altered from the traditional point-to-point schemes of analog wiring, and chores like segment loading take thought and man-hours typically unnecessary in "conventional" projects. A project will need fieldbus expertise in at least three disciplines: The systems engineer (DCS configuration specialist) will need some training; the instrument engineer (device specifier) will apply some "different" skills; and the designers will need to understand the capabilities and limitations of H1/PA networks to design and load fieldbus segments. But it's not like a 400-level course in vector calculus. I've seen projects where the engineering and design team spent a day in a hotel conference room with the client and the trainer, and turned out a very successful job. Three or four days at a sanctioned fieldbus training facility, like Trine in Indianapolis, Lee College in Baytown, Texas, or SAIT in Calgary, Alberta, should suffice for the core team. The challenge is not so much understanding the technology as it is learning the features and options, making mindful choices, and sticking to the decisions throughout the job. Once the core team creates some templates and/or guidelines for these choices, like standardized segment diagrams, there shouldn't be a lot of incremental effort required. If you do the math: How many you want to train (affected discipline leads and systems engineers) times 30 hours, I think that should be the practical limit for budget inflation. For clients who already possess templates or a "toolkit" for fieldbus projects, the incremental cost should be even less. And if the EPC is accountable for commissioning, more than enough savings can be made up during loop checking.

Anyone who’s endured a project where mistakes or misjudgments caused unforeseen pain should be an expert.

The next challenge a lot of people encounter is vendor expertise. Fieldbus has been around for more than 15 years, and hosts are tested and registered by the Fieldbus Foundation to possess standard capabilities. So the perception has become, "Fieldbus support is not so great a differentiator for my DCS offering." However, the utilities and user-friendliness of fieldbus engineering tools varies considerably. Consequently, the education and emphasis of DCS vendors focuses on the latest and greatest features. We encounter folks who are at best vaguely aware of their systems' fieldbus capability, have little training in it and are unaware of how good they are at it. So it may fall on the experienced end user to help the systems vendor learn how good they are at fieldbus. Finding the fieldbus gurus at your systems vendor and gaining access to them should be a precondition of making a purchase.

What about the tales of woe? I find this a curious contradiction: In my mind, anyone who's endured a project where mistakes or misjudgments caused unforeseen pain should be an expert. Once you trim fieldbus back from all its diverse capabilities to, "What's different from conventional, and what do I need to know?" your team should have ample expertise to execute projects of virtually any size.

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