Throughout 2013, the international HART community is gathering at celebrations around the world to mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the HART Communication Foundation in 1993. Development of the HART Protocol itself goes a few years further back than that, but it was a humble first meeting of the HART User Group in 1990 that laid the groundwork for the Foundation's establishment and for the emergence of HART as the first open industry standard for digital field instrument communication.
Since those early days, the capabilities of HART Communication and the breadth of its adoption have only accelerated. The number of HART-based devices now in use exceeds 40 million, making HART by far the most widely deployed process instrumentation protocol.
HART technology first succeeded and continues to flourish for a number of reasons, including simplicity and ease of use. It remains relatively easy for an instrumentation professional familiar with 4-20mA analog signals to make HART part of an expanded information repertoire that includes access to configuration, calibration, and diagnostic data. They need not relinquish the “brick and mortar” analog signal they're used to in order to leverage the more textured, bi-directional communication with smart field devices that the HART Protocol provides.
And even while it has maintained backward-compatibility, HART communication also has continued to advance and evolve, driven in large part by a supportive Foundation organization and member companies that listen and respond to end users' needs. That the HART Communication Foundation was first to invest in and bring to market in 2007 an open wireless communication standard for process instruments is but one example that bears witness to this commitment.
The Users Have Spoken
In many ways, though, the story of HART Communication is just beginning. A recently completed survey of Control magazine subscribers confirms that realizing the full potential of HART to transform operations is a work in process. Fewer than half of survey respondents (43%) have integrated HART communications into their operations beyond the intermittent use of handheld communicators for commissioning, calibration and troubleshooting. HART works great for streamlining these tasks, but the real-time diagnostic data that can open new vistas of reliability, efficiency, and value too often lay dying on the vine.
The next 20 years for the HART Protocol and for the HART Communication Foundation will be about continuing to deliver bottom-line business benefits to process manufacturers. New offerings from instrument, host system and other suppliers to the HART ecosystem are making it easier than ever to adopt the proactive and predictive maintenance strategies that full-time HART communication makes possible. A little incremental technology may be needed, but a rethink of work processes and a change in company culture may prove even more critical to getting the most from the HART technology that's already all around you.
On a professional and personal note, 2013 also marks my first year as president and CEO of the HART Communication Foundation. I'm excited to be instrumental in forging the future strategy of the Foundation at this exciting time in the industry. Ron Helson, founding executive director of the Foundation, is retiring this year, bringing to a close two remarkable decades of dedicated service and leadership to the HART community. Best wishes and deep gratitude to Ron from us all!