Live from the Fieldbus Foundation General Assembly #pauto

"After fifteen years, we can emphatically say that the technology works," John Berra, wearing his hat as Chairman of the Fieldbus Foundation Board of Directors, said in his welcome to the Fieldbus Foundation General Assembly.

This is the only high tech industry with a major technology that has only sold something like a million nodes in the past 15 years that would not be considered a failure. The process industries move very slowly, probably because the lifecycle of control systems is 20+  years instead of the 2-3 years in other high tech industries like enterprise computing. And of course, they are conservative because untried technologies are more likely to blow the plant up than tried-and-true systems, regardless of how antiquated.

The Keynote address is being given by B. R. Mehta, senior vice president of Reliance Industries Ltd. Reliance is, for some reason, not well known in North America, but it is one of the very largest refining companies in the world. The Jamnagar refinery supplies over 25% of India's entire oil production, and is almost entirely devoted to refining for export to the United States. "In Jamnagar, we can make textiles from crude," Mehta said.

Mehta wrote an article in the February issue of Control about the world's largest Foundation fieldbus installation in the world-- the JERP project, also at Jamnagar.

"In all our plants, fieldbus is a basic technology," Mehta said.

The Jamnagar refining complex is the world's largest-- producing 1.24 million barrels per day of oil.

It is also the largest implementation of Invensys' IA system in the world, and is one of the best real-world arguments against the theory that the venerable (27 year old) Foxboro I/A DCS is outdated.

"We based our DCS on Foxboro, yes," Mehta said, "but the fieldbus technology allowed us to pick and choose the best field devices rather than standardising on one vendor for everything, because of the interchangeability and interoperability built into fieldbus."

"We are not yet doing control in the field," Mehta said, "nor are we taking multiple inputs from the same device, but I see that happening in the future."

Mehta and his team wrote a dedicated Foundation fieldbus specification for JERP. This gave them consistency across the entire project, made instrumentation easy to add, and allowed them to standardize on fieldbus power supplies and wiring designs as well as on best-in-class instruments and controls.

Mehta went over the engineering details of the methodology adopted by Reliance for JERP and the rest of their refineries.

Where FF isn't being used include ESD and F&G Control systems, and very fast loops among other types of control.

Jamnagar's JERP project was so huge that vendors developed instruments, I/O and controls specifically for JERP. Multiple vendors were forced to cooperate to manufacture and integrate things like FF Junction boxes where Stahl, P+F and MTL devices were all in the same box.

The Reliance team also developed a Foundation fieldbus and HART router DTM.

Mehta discussed the trends and challenges facing his company. Business focus has replaced technology focus in determining what Reliance does.

He went on to discuss the challenges such as depleting resources, staffing crunches, financial market instability, and others.

Continuous improvement, tighly integrated manufacturing+production+business operations are required to pursue operational excellence, he said. "OpX is a Journey, not a Destination!!" he declared.

Development strategies including vertical integration with other downstream petrochemical assets, building plants close to customers, and also close to low cost raw materials are what drive Reliance's future developments.

Reliability of the systems is critical and reliability improvement is a main goal of Reliance's engineering and operations staff.

It is Reliance's goal to become an industry pace setter, by improving optimization, both of technical processes and supply chain, as well as other operational excellence drivers.

"There are significant opportunities to do these things by providing end to end automation integration," Mehta said.

"Foundation fieldbus is a key technology in our optimization strategy," Mehta closed.