The age of always-on, Internet-connected process plant operations, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Big Data, Industry 4.0 — call it what you want — is taking root. In the process industries, the need for connectivity between field and control room, and from operations to the front office and supply chain, is increasingly evident.
The concept of fully digitizing field instruments and devices has evolved into a small handful of industry standards that have revolutionized how plant automation systems are designed and run. Earlier this year, the FieldComm Group became home for HART, Foundation, and more recently, FDI technologies. These technologies are the keys for unlocking the rich digital data lurking in the world's process facilities.
Wireless eases digital transition
Most plants aren't new, and infrastructure upgrades are costly. Many continue to shy away from even the most basic digital connectivity. For example, one instrumentation vendor estimates that 85% of process instruments sold today are equipped with 4-20 mA HART capability, but only about 50% of users take advantage of it. For those that do, HART technology, followed by WirelessHART and HART-IP, have proved indispensable to instrumentation professionals seeking to enhance plant uptime and reliability.
WirelessHART lets users "take advantage of what they already know," says Hoag Ostling, Hoaglund Engineering, St. Petersburg, Fla. "To me, that's the biggest winner with WirelessHART. Everyone already knows HART. They can turn on a new device from a new vendor, and they already know how to configure 90% of that device. And in most cases, that 90% is all we really care about."
Training technicians to implement WirelessHART for the first time in subzero temperatures proved startlingly easy, with training taking just five minutes. (See sidebar, "Staggering ease with WirelessHART on Alaska's North Slope.") The same day the technology was installed at a half-dozen well-heads, Ostling says members of his automation group "uploaded a complete new well of approximately eight instruments to the Modbus map, batteries were installed and now, data is flowing and the SCADA system is trending on a second wellhead."
At present, an entirely new, full-scale drill site is being fitted with WirelessHART. Ostling says it will be "even easier" than the last job because configuration will be done using a remote PC-based application that connects to the wireless gateway.
HART-IP paves the way for the IIoT
As WirelessHART digitizes wired HART data, HART-IP takes WirelessHART data to a new level by connecting it to plants' Ethernet IP infrastructure. This is a critical advantage at a time where IIoT and overlapping terms and technologies such as Industry 4.0, Big Data and other high-flying concepts are becoming very real.
"The whole philosophy of the IIoT is about managing a massive increase in data — doubling, tripling or quadrupling the number of sensors. And the only cost-effective way to get there is to not have to wire them," says Bob Karschnia, vice president, Wireless, Emerson Process Management. "It's not just about wiring more devices, but wiring a massive amount of them in a new way." Citing the rising complexity of running plants, he says linking HART-IP to WirelessHART addresses the critical need for "an infrastructure that's common across all platforms."
One huge benefit of the HART-IP protocol is a vast reduction in manual data mapping chores. Today, a user seeking to map device data from WirelessHART to Modbus must know details of the host's Modbus settings and registers, map the HART variable you want to that particular register, and separately map the status of each device's measurement to a different register. Once the data is in Modbus, it then has to be mapped to the host system's database structure. This might take 30 minutes to an hour per point (including testing and verifying), and the application may have thousands of points to map. In contrast, using HART-IP requires the user to provide an IP address and hit ENTER – the data are auto-populated in the database. "That takes — literally — less than a minute," Karschnia says, "and everything you can imagine is entered, stored and recorded in the database. That's the beauty of HART protocol, now the responsibility of FieldComm Group — they've done such a phenomenal job of making this so simple that it's not just easy; it's hard to get it wrong."
Researchers have already proven successful in controlling a full distillation column using WirelessHART, "and they've proven that for practical purposes, there's no discernible difference between using wired 4-20 mA control, Foundation Fieldbus control and WirelessHART control," Karschnia says. The 256 Kb WirelessHART signals, digitized and passed up through HART-IP-equipped wireless access points (multiplexers and gateways), sends data that can be used alongside analog or digital fieldbus data. As HART-IP devices become more widespread in the DCS world, real-time WirelessHART applications will take "a tremendous step forward," Karschnia says.
HART smarts in the Mobile Age
Handheld HART communicators have made it easier and more cost-effective for technicians to reach hard-to-access devices. Benefits include incalculable cost reductions such as turning hours into minutes for checkout/startup and ongoing maintenance. But in the age of mobile computing, even handheld HART communicators have become less convenient than the iPhones and Google Android-based smartphones in technicians' pockets.
Mobile apps, used in conjunction with a compact Bluetooth modem and HART-enabled PC-based software, is cost-effective upfront because it can eliminate the purchase of traditional HART communicators. Additionally, plants that can't equip every qualified technician with a communicator can now deploy phone-based calibrators in the field, reducing future budget deliberations and significantly enhancing maintenance productivity. Plus, phones tend to have larger screens, free-up space in the technician's tool bag — and can do double and triple duty when instruction manuals, engineering catalogs, calculators and more can fit in the same, pocket-sized device.
"Most of our people have Android phones, so it makes sense to run the DevComDroid software in our own devices rather than more cumbersome handheld devices," says Andrew McIntosh, instrumentation lead with Fonterra Co-operative Group, a New Zealand Dairy. On his use of DevComDroid from ProComSol, he adds, "Bluetooth capability lets us remotely control the connected device, so it reduces the need for two people doing an end-to-end loop check. It's dependable and efficient technology, and has saved us time and money."
More user-friendly Foundation
FOUNDATION Fieldbus digital technology provides much greater bandwidth for moving large volumes of data. But the shock of going all-digital for some users has been a barrier to implementation. To address this issue, the specification continues to evolve for greater user-friendliness.
John Rezabek, process control specialist for ISP Corp., a Lima, Ohio, specialty chemical unit of Ashland Chemical, notes how FOUNDATION Fieldbus has roots in a specification written for "extraordinary reliability," which came with a level of complexity that is difficult to maintain in today's climate.
The good news is that as human and budgetary capital have tightened, FOUNDATION Fieldbus has responded with usability improvements that ease the instrument professional's job. These include making the spec's existing "Compatibility_rev," parameter a "mandatory" part of the protocol's interoperability test kit (ITK) and other details that Rezabek says move tasks such as device replacement and commissioning closer to a "screwdriver-only" scenario that bypasses the need for involvement by control system specialists.
New products on the market continue to enhance FOUNDATION Fieldbus utility, including various remote diagnostics solutions for plants where Foundation Fieldbus components have been running for years. "Segments may be approaching the threshold of failing, terminals may have corroded, extra de-vices may have been added or replaced, and there may be varying installation practices," explains Jason Norris, process automation manager, Phoenix Contact. He cites a need for solutions to troubleshoot aging network segments as well as device issues, for example, improperly fit device caps on transmitters, which Norris says recently caused a shutdown at a power generation customer site.
To address the issue, a Field Diagnostics Module, to be installed in the junction box, is being readied by Phoenix Contact for market introduction. It monitors voltage between power supplies and junction boxes to detect issues such as voltage drops, and sends alarms back to the control room. "Maintenance crews no longer need to do a two-step maintenance cycle where they go out to the field to first check to see what kind of problem there is — they get that information immediately," says Arnold Offner, strategic marketing manager, Phoenix Contact.
Additional Foundation-compliant diagnostic products include surge protectors from Pepperl+Fuchs that also provide Foundation-compliant diagnostics to protect control components, device couplers and field devices with self-monitoring and alarm messaging back to control room operators. By detecting depleted surge protectors early, the vendor reports, this product replaces costly and repetitive manual checks and prevents unscheduled downtime through the replacement of modules — without need for an intermediate level of wiring, because modules are simply plugged into the device coupler. Related Pepperl+Fuchs Foundation products include a device coupler that monitors net-works to prevent segment failures in process plants where aggressive gases can compromise wiring, and in foods and pharmaceutical plants using high-pressure sprays. Additionally, Foundation-compliant control enclosures, I/O modules and gateways provide early-warning diagnostics to boost the reliability and availability of control as well as process equipment.
Monsanto, at its Muscatine, Iowa agricultural products processing facility, first applied Foundation Fieldbus in 2004 at a waste treatment plant and soon after, a coal-fired boiler unit. The initial driver was to physically circumvent the cost and physical barriers of cable-tray and wiring capacity constraints.
Beyond trouble-free performance, the all-digital field "has given us a huge advantage in our ability to diagnose and predictively determine issues with our instruments," says Joel Holmes, site electrical reliability engineer and enterprise lead for Emerson's asset-managing AMS system. He says the network infrastructure has taken on an increasingly relevant role for its ability to "absorb the massive amount of information" coming as the IIoT takes root.
Connecting more than 90% of the facility's field devices "allows us to identify issues before they occur so that you can predictively, proactively plan, schedule and execute those repairs before they have a negative impact on your units." (See sidebar, "Monsanto achieves years of reliability.")
Under the umbrella of the FieldComm Group, Foundation Fieldbus and HART protocols will integrate with hosts via FDI technology. FDI rationalizes the device-describing protocols of FDT and EDDL, allowing a single software solution to work in plants with disparate network protocols, says Edmond Toutoungi, product manager, Wireless and HART, Endress+Hauser Process Solutions. For instance, FDI's efforts will ease interoperability between Foundation Fieldbus H1 and PROFIBUS DP/PA/PROFINET at the instrument level, as well as a merging of control networks via industrial Ethernet. Furthermore, communication will also be more open to discrete networks.
"A lot of the same things we've been talking about for more than 10 years are even more true today with the advent of the IIoT," says Laura Briggs, marketing manager, Plant Asset Manage-ment, Emerson Process Management. Easier integration of devices, networks and hosts; easier connection to host systems; and a more open attitude toward sharing data between process control and maintenance have been the goal of technology developers for decades. But under the FieldComm Group, the industry is poised to realize a new level of cost avoidance, efficiency, profitability and reliability.