Smart devices need standards–and volunteers

Ian Verhappen continues his discussion on the importance of standards in the adoption of technology and the involvement of more automation professionals

By Ian Verhappen, P.Eng

Here we are for the third month in a row talking about standards, which though not intentional, certainly illustrates how important standards are to the adoption of technology—and perhaps why you should consider becoming involved in their development.

The reason is because the vast majority of new field devices being installed today are considered "intelligent," not only because they're microprocessor- based, but also because they're  able to communicate digitally with other devices. Of course, by default, since they rely on digital communications to connect with the other nodes/devices, all wireless transmitters are intelligent.

The challenge now is determining not only what information is useful or required for the application in which the device is being installed, but also, and equally important, what data can be ignored, or at a minimum, where it should be routed.

ISA is finalizing a new standard, ISA-TR108.1-2015 "Intelligent Device Management Part 1: Concepts and Terminology." ISA108 and now, through SC65E WG10, the IEC are also working to adopt this document internationally and bring some level of standardization to management of intelligence in the majority of devices are connected to today's control systems. The intent is to enable end users to make intelligent use of the information in those intelligent devices, and capture better value from their automation investment.

ISA-TR108.1 Part 1 is the first of what will be a series of documents. Part 1 will define the basics, while a number of paired Part 2 and Part 3 documents will address a different aspect of the data management associated with the intelligent devices. Part 2 documents will reflect best practices and recommendations in each of the aspects of intelligent device management, while the associated Part 3 will address the specific guidelines for implementing the recommendations incorporated in Part 2 (see my March 2015 column). There's also the possibility that some Part 3 documents will be further divided for different industries or implementations.

The lifecycle aspect of these standards is important because it requires transfer of knowledge from design firm to operating firm, as well as across disciplines, most notably engineering, instrument technicians and planners, as well as those supporting the systems they use, such as IT, finance, procurement and others.

The forecast series of documents, in most cases, have a small contingent of experts interested in assisting their development, but since all the documents are relatively early in the development cycle, this would be the appropriate time to join and contribute to these efforts. Unless you're taking a leadership role, all the work can be done remotely. If you're interested in participating or learning more about how you can contribute, please contact me directly, and I will get you connected with right individual(s) reflective of your interests.

As you can see, the intelligent use of intelligent devices does not happen automatically, but rather requires a significant level of work and planning, preferably from the conceptual stage of a project, so that all the necessary infrastructure to support the required new or, at a minimum, revised work processes is present. That fact accounts for the committee's insistence on the use of the words "lifecycle" throughout the documents.

Intelligent devices provide a lot of benefits. However, to make the most effective use of them, you need more than the devices themselves. You need to be able to make effective use of the data they generate—to make it accessible to the right people in the right format. The best way to be sure this happens is through the use of standards, but standards don't write themselves. They require interested, informated people to develop them.