The Oracle speaks: John Rezabek on Foundation Fieldbus

For the blog:: We bussed through beautiful downtown Lima and emerged at what used to be BP Chemicals. After signing in, and grabbing some bagels, we had a chance to look at the demo Fieldbus systems, and, via webcam, the actual operating installation on a set of filter blowdown controls. Dave Campbell, the Foundation PR guy introduced John Rezabek, who in turn introduced his boss, the plant manager, Charlie Gasparetti. Gasparetti tried to make sense of all the names, since BP has sold part of the plant (the BDO facility) to ISP, but part of the plant will remain part of BP until it spins off its new IPO "innovene" later this year. Everybody was having the devil's own time figuring out how to remember who owned what. Gasparetti made the decision, back in 1998 to go with H1 fieldbus when they were designing and building the facility. Rich Timoney, the President of the Fieldbus Foundation, gave Gasparetti a commemorative plaque, noting that it is due in part to Gasparetti's shared vision that this demo was going forward. Timoney reminded us that over 500,000 H1 devices are installed and operating"¦now it is time to move forward with full interoperability of devices, with HSE and Flexible Function Blocks. John Berra, President of Emerson Process Management and Chair of the Foundation board, piped up and noted that this demo is an illustration of what Foundation Fieldbus is all about: all sorts and sizes of companies serving as a team, regardless of affiliation, to serve the community. Sometimes John hits the mark square on. "It is the vision of end users like John Rezabek," Berra said, "and the Users Advisory Board. Long before the demo stage, end users drive R&D so that we have what users want, and not what vendors want for them." Berra said that it was clear that FF provides solid benefits and construction savings, and also operating benefits over time. Dave Glanzer, the Foundation's director of technology, gave a very quick FF tutorial, explaining how it all works, and then Rezabek took us through the details of the application. Half of the valves operate through Smar linking devices, and the other half through Softing's. When asked, repeatedly, whether they had saved any money, Rezabek ducked and weaved, but later admitted that he didn't know, and that wasn't the purpose of the test. "If we were going to leave this in permanently, we would have started with all Smar linking devices and actuators, and put them in and that would have been that." This way, he pointed out, they actually did it in a much more difficult way than necessary to allow all the vendors to display their stuff during the demo. One of the most important things Rezabek said was his list of what users really want. He pointed out that the definition of what an open system is has changed dramatically since early in the 1990s (we can map lots of our outputs to Modbus) to "all you need is OPC and we've got that, so we're open," today. Well, not quite, Rezabek noted. Having to use OPC instead of a standard "tagname.parameter" format should be a last resort, not the standard case. That's where, he believes, HSE is headed. What isn't there yet, in HSE, and what users want: --easy integration into current DCSs --unified programming interface so that all linking devices program the same way --improved interconnectivity between linking devices --better understanding of the cost complexity breakpoints. This was a point that came up repeatedly in the discussion. Rezabek was asked many times whether Foundation Fieldbus was cheaper. He pointed out that they were a pioneer, and that the first one always costs more. He showed us physically the reduction in wiring when we visited the control room later"¦there were just a few bundles of orange (FF) wire, and lots of bundles of existing blue (analog) wiring. Rezabek said that the original project claimed projected savings of $250K, and the post-project audit showed "dramatic underspend" on the budget. John Berra, wearing, I suppose, his FF hat and not his Emerson hat, said that the average is 15-25% savings, depending on who does the job. My private belief is that when the core knowledge is widely spread among contractors and E&C firms, it will be a no-brainer to go Foundation Fieldbus, even on very small installations. Rezabek said that they were performing over 70% of the closed loop control in the BDO plant in the Foundation Fieldbus equipped field devices. It is clear that this reduction in "control system overhead" will result in cost savings. The operators, Rezabek said, don't see the difference. It is transparent to them, but "if they lost features like realtime indication of device status, they'd get mad." And, he notes, it will engender a new paradigm"¦the integrated Process Automation System, as device people and system/controlroom people merge. Taking it farther than he did, the PAS will merge with the business system, as we have discussed a lot both in this blog and in CONTROL as well.