Foundation Fieldbus - Can We All Just Get Along?

A Factor Slowing the Adoption of Wireless Communications in the Process Industries Is Concern and Confusion about Standards

By Nancy Bartels

According to both ARC Advisory Group and Global Automation Research, one of the factors continuing to slow the adoption of wireless communications in the process industries is the concern and confusion about standards. Many end users are holding off, waiting to find out who is going to "win" the "standards wars."

In the end, that waiting may be unnecessary. For one thing, the WirelessHART vs. ISA100 dispute may end up like the one between VHS and BetaMax. Both will be overtaken by some other, better technology.

Meanwhile, Tom Phinney points out that "a product designed for either is capable of running the other one is practice."  It's a matter of getting the necessary firmware, he says Right now, for the most part, that's up to the individual vendor, most of whom for the moment are picking one or the other.

But some are looking past the standards wars. Nivis Wireless Sensor Networks offers technology for both ISA100.11a and WirelessHART, as well as for 6LoWPAN, (IPv6 over LoW Power wireless Area Networks). The target for IP networking for low-power radio communication are the applications that need wireless internet connectivity at lower data rates for devices with very limited form factors, such as automation or water metering.

In China, Chung Ching Communications University, a member of the ISA 100 committee, has had ISA 100.11a, WirelessHART and the Chinese wireless standard, WIA-PA, all working together.

The Fieldbus Foundation is also hedging its bets.

At the ACHEMA 2012 show in Frankfort, Germany, in June, the Foundation released the latest version of the Foundation technical specifications, which include key elements of Foundation for Remote Operations Management technology that enables manufacturers to begin developing Foundation for remote devices. Specifications have been added for transducer blocks for both wired and WirelessHART devices. The ISA 100.11a portion of the specifications should be available sometime during the month of August, according to Global Marketing Manager, Larry O'Brien.

Foundation for ROM is the first example of the capability of integrating ISA 100.11a, WirelessHART, wired Hart and wired H1 protocols into a single standard environment without sacrificing the diagnostic capabilities of the existing wireless devices. Those capabilities are mapped into the block structure to provide a standard environment for data management, quality and more, eliminating the need for highly customized, more costly solutions, says O'Brien.