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Why instrumentation purchases should require FDI device packages

Feb. 16, 2023
To help implementers achieve success, it is crucial to ensure multi-vendor interoperability between controllers and instruments, and also across control systems.

Companies are experiencing genuine advances in the boardroom, control room and the field derived from successfully deployed digitalization strategies. To help implementers achieve success, it is crucial to ensure multi-vendor interoperability between controllers and instruments, and also across control systems.

FieldComm Group does not sell anything to end users, but instead operates as a non-profit standards organization that owns and manages the development of digital technology standards, including Ethernet-APL, HART, HART-IP, WirelessHART, FOUNDATION Fieldbus, FDI, and PA-DIM. FieldComm Group maintains a vested interest in keeping end users aware of these technologies and the benefits they enable when incorporated in products developed by our worldwide member companies, numbering more than 400.

Since 2002, FieldComm Group has annually designated an end-user facility as “Plant of the Year”, illustrating effective digitalization efforts. This award is given to a site making excellent use of FieldComm Group technology. For example, Wanhau Chemical Group in Yantai, China—the 2022 winner and first ever recipient in that nation—boasts an impressive 180,000 HART, FOUNDATION Fieldbus, and WirelessHART instruments deployed facility wide, and almost all are monitored via an asset management system.

To manage these instruments, the company implemented remote configuration, commissioning, device health monitoring, and condition-based maintenance, saving tens of millions of dollars and avoiding over 40 potential shutdowns since 2017.

Promoting the FDI standard

HART and FOUNDATION Fieldbus demonstrably provide tremendous operational efficiency improvements for process facilities when deployed with continuous digital data transmission among instruments, asset management systems, and industrial internet of things (IIoT) platforms. But this article will focus on the importance of the Field Device Integration (FDI) standard.

This standard defines a common set of software components for incorporation into systems and instruments, which improve the tasks of configuring, commissioning, operating, monitoring, and maintaining field devices throughout multi-vendor installations. Finalized in 2015, many host systems and instruments from FieldComm Group member companies now support the FDI standard.

Emerson’s AMS Device Manager v14.5 was the first FDI-registered host, and ABB’s Ability  Field Information Manager, Siemens SIMATIC PDM, Honeywell’s Field Device Manager (FDM), and most recently PACTware 6.1 also support FDI.

On the instrumentation side, major suppliers—including ABB, Emerson, Endress+Hauser, Honeywell, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Yokogawa, and many others—all offer FDI Device Packages for many of their instruments. A complete list of instruments with registered FDI device packages can be found at

Stated directly: If you are an end user, a systems integrator (SI), or an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) firm, you need to urge instrument suppliers to provide FDI Device Packages with their instruments. There are few reasons to prioritize this push, but first a bit of not-too-technical background.

FDI advantages

For nearly two decades, process automation host systems and instruments have relied on Device Description (DD) software driver files to define what an instrument can do and how it operates within the host. Users most likely associate these files by their extensions such as “.fm6,” “.fm7,” “.ff0,” and others.

The FDI standard also uses DDs, but now the DD is encapsulated in a software package—similar to a ZIP file—that can also include specialized user interface plugins and documentation. The file extension associated with an FDI Device Package is “.fdix.” Of particular importance for instruments that support an FDI Device Package, the DD provided includes the following new features by specification, many of which users have requested for years (Figure 1).

  • Device Health: Advanced device health diagnostics must be supported per the NAMUR NE 107 recommendation. This specification defines five device health categories for an instrument—good, check function, maintenance required, out of specification, and failure—along with a set of visual indicators to easily assess status. Endress+Hauser has an excellent blog post on NE 107 that can be found at Monitoring device health in a process helps identify, mitigate, and manage issues before they become failures or downtime events.

  • IIoT Readiness: A standard information model is necessary to increase asset management and IIoT connectivity to instrument data across the OT/IT chasm, which, up to this point, has been a major challenge in the process automation industry. Users in the space are hearing much more about advanced process control optimization, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) optimization than they were five years ago. Effectively taking advantage of the promises inherent in these ideas requires tremendously easier access to data from the operations side than has historically been available. To address these and other challenges, FieldComm Group—along with many other standards and user organizations—developed a standard for Process Automation Device Information Models (PA-DIM) using OPC UA technology.

  • This standard enables protocol-agnostic communication of common process automation instrument parameters, including semantic IDs as defined by IEC 61987. The elimination of automation protocol dependencies simplifies the integration of IT and OT systems, and the inclusion of semantic device information enables unambiguous machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. HART or Fieldbus-specific implementations are converted into the address space of the PA-DIM Information Model.

  • Offline Configuration: Configuring instruments and systems prior to installation—or offline—and then downloading the configuration to the physical instrument in the field when it is ready, is required for faster commissioning and reduced downtime during turnarounds. In the process automation industry, commissioning tends to be a systematic, comprehensive, and well‐planned process, ensuring that all instruments, controllers, and asset management systems are configured per the operational requirements for a specific application. Offline configuration helps further improve the efficiency of this task.

  • Modern User Interfaces: FDI Device Packages may come with a vastly improved user interface plug-in (UIP) supporting .NET or HTML5 technology. All registered host systems that support FDI must support UIPs. Prior to FDI, the user interfaces for system-integrated instrument configuration tools were limited to text and simple graphics, or reliant upon vendor or OS-specific custom applications. The FDI standard defines a new user interface that can be included with FDI device packages, complete with real-time configuration and visualization capabilities, which reduce the chance of entry errors.

  • FDI Device Package Security: The FDI Device Package ensures security because suppliers must “sign” the package using a recognized certificate authority during the FieldComm Group conformance and registration process. FieldComm Group also provides an additional signature indicating conformance.

Propelling digital transformation

FDI Device Packages are designed to support numerous features essential for modern process automation and management applications. FieldComm Group provides software development tools for its members, aiding suppliers in the development of FDI-enabled products, and ultimately in the conformance testing and registration of these products.

Equipping instrumentation with FDI Device Packages enables enhanced device health information, IIoT data, offline configuration, modern user interfaces, improved security, and other features, like standardized bulk configuration tools. Because host systems that support FDI also support older DD technology, it is essential for users, SIs, and EPCs to continue encouraging suppliers to deliver FDI Device Packages with instrumentation to best support digital transformation.

About the Author

Paul Sereiko

Paul Sereiko is Director of Marketing for FieldComm Group.

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