It’s hard to keep your ducks in a row if you can’t find them. That’s why technicians have toolboxes and everyone has a tool drawer at home.
On the software side? Historically, not so much. While code and programs must be carefully organized, support software such as device descriptions (DD) are often scattered among many developers and suppliers, making it difficult for users to setup, configure, network and operate equipment.
“This is similar to when users get a new office printer, and they have to find and install drivers, so it will work with their PCs,” says Hendrik Deckert, technical product manager for measurement and analytics in the Industrial Automation division at ABB. “This is how it’s been for process industry users when their devices need drivers, so they’re asking why they need to search for drivers, and why they can’t have one place to plug in?”
Because there’s typically no one source for drivers, one of the most difficult challenges for end users is obtaining the correct electronic device descriptions (EDD) files for HART and FOUNDATION Fieldbus instruments that will let these devices and other components integrate with their asset management systems, DCSs, SCADA systems, HMIs, tablets, smart phones and other devices.
“Managing EDDs and Field Device Integration (FDI) packages is monotonous and painful, but it’s important,” says Hiroyuki Tsugane, advanced automation system solutions marketing manager at Azbil Corp. “Many users complain about managing EDDs, so having a repository with an API that can store and manage EDDs and FDI Device Packages could solve their headaches.”
Most drivers can be found on supplier websites, but searches for updates can be complicated and time-consuming. And sometimes device revisions aren’t officially registered, so they aren’t available.
“Just as FieldComm Group addresses user issues with the FDI standard, users want to get rid of constraints with Field Device Tools (FDT) and Device Type Managers (DTM) that had interoperability issues and devices that wouldn’t cooperate,” adds Deckert. “This is why they want one place, hosted by FieldComm Group, where members can access and get drivers.”
One-stop for Edds
To address requests to simplify its user experience, FieldComm Group launched the FDI Device Package Repository, including:
- Cloud-based platform that uses representational state transfer (RESTful) APIs to let users access latest, updated drivers;
- One source for registered EDDs and FDI Device Packages regardless of protocol or vendor;
- Ability to let DCSs and other smart devices connect directly—on an autonomous, machine-to-machine basis—and download the latest files;
- Streamlined device revision management to make sure driver and user systems are always up to date;
- Push notifications for updates; and
- Protocol independence.
However, even a cloud-based repository with interfaces is basically a filing cabinet, so accessing it requires applications. One of these is FieldComm Group’s registered products online catalog. Launched in November 2018, it provides filtering, search and driver downloads for more than 1,300 registered HART and FOUNDATION Fieldbus devices.
“A big part of the FDI standard’s value proposition is it would address EDDs spread in different places, making it hard for users to figure out what they needed,” says Dan Ryan, engineering program manager in the PlantWeb division at Emerson Automation Solutions. “The FDI Repository extends this effort by collecting integration files in one place, which simplifies the user’s experience because they no longer have to search for the right, updated files.”
Ryan reports the Repository’s other leading-edge advantage is it runs on a cloud-computing platform that can be accessed via a web interface. “This is also an interface that allows authorized software to access to the Repository, which lets outside devices log in and get drivers. This sets the stage for future devices performing automated checking for EDDs and FDI Device Packages, and downloading what they need. In the future, FDI Device Packages will ship data to the cloud, and devices will decide what data and parameters they want to send. FDI and the Repository are all about simplifying the lives of end users.”
Azbil’s Tsugane adds, “The Repository can already take commands and return results, but it can also check for any changes in EDD and FDI packages in it, and update not only manually, but also automatically.”
Assist from outside
ABB has also developed an application that uses the Repository’s drivers and files. Deckert reports ABB’s Field Information Manager (FIM) software accesses the same, single-source FDI Device Package Repository. It’s a device management tool that embraces the FDI standard’s common host components to make configuration, commissioning, diagnostics and maintenance of fieldbus instruments faster and easier. FIM also uses FDI and a GUI to let users work more effectively with their instruments.
“Other suppliers can connect to the Repository via the FDI host system, but this is generic field device management. FIM lets users access the Repository, and see all their applicable drivers more easily,” explains Deckert. “For example, when ABB releases a new device package, FieldComm Group will check, test, certify and register it. To be registered, device packages must prove they conform with the FDI standard. Once the package is certified, FieldComm Group will load it to the Repository’s server, where FIM can connect, and show users everything that’s there, so they no longer have to search.”