Major Industry Partners Collaborate to Advance FDI Technology

Feb. 22, 2018
We explore how Field Device Integration (FDI) technology, through its full featured capabilities, backward compatibility and wide industry support, provides automation stakeholders with an open, future-proof standard for integration and a superior user experience.

As digitalization increases throughout industrial operations, there is the creation of a significant amount of additional data. Thus, more sophisticated strategies are needed to manage data from intelligent devices and other sources, determine what is relevant, and assure that relevant data is made available to the appropriate systems.

Interoperability and data transparency on all levels are key factors in the acceptance of emerging technologies in the process industries. The following article describes how Field Device Integration (FDI) technology, through its full featured capabilities, backward compatibility and wide industry support, provides automation stakeholders with an open, future-proof standard for integration and a superior user experience.

Need for seamless integration

In today’s complex process automation systems, field instruments from many different manufacturers have to be integrated – resulting in significant effort for installation, version management and device operation.

The latest intelligent devices can also pose an information management problem, especially when there are devices on different networks with different underlying technologies for displaying and managing information.

Responding to the need for open and standardized device integration, leading process industry foundations, including FieldComm Group, Profibus International, and the OPC Foundation, jointly developed the FDI standard. Their goal was to solve the problem of integrating field devices with the multitude of networks, operating systems and control systems commonly used in process plants.

FDI helps bring previously inaccessible data into commonly reported and displayed information, so it can be used to add value for applications and businesses. The specification is based on the IEC 61804 - Electronic Device Description Language (EDDL) standard for the description of devices. It takes account of the various tasks over the entire lifecycle for both simple and the most complex devices.

The primary objective of FDI is to dramatically simplify software installation, configuration, maintenance, and management of field instruments and host systems. Modern field instruments often include a device information file that provides software access to the features and functions of the device, one or more user interface plug-ins that integrate with host system software to enhance the usability of the device with the host, numerous user manuals, installation instructions, and data sheets.

FDI brings standardization to the packaging and distribution of all the software and tools necessary to integrate a device with a host system. All registered FDI devices are required to have an associated FDI Device Package, which is a collection of files including an Electronic Device Description (EDD)-based on IEC 61804-3, an optional user interface plug-in (UIP) based on Windows® Presentation Foundation (WPF), and instrument documentation and technology-specific files.

FDI not only supports FieldComm Group protocols such as HART, WirelessHART and FOUNDATION Fieldbus, but also Profibus, Profinet and ISA 100.11a. Through standalone communication servers, additional protocols like Modbus and EtherNet/IP are also integrated with the technology.

Preparing for digital transformation

In the industrial automation sector, there are ever-increasing demands to leverage process automation data from information systems, as well as utilize architectures for more open interfaces. Initiatives like the NAMUR Open Architecture, Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) all seek to break down proprietary architecture barriers between field devices and, ultimately, cloud-based computing platforms. They are revolutionizing the way users and machines interact, as well as the way machines engage with each other.

Recognizing current trends in digital transformation, the architects of FDI partnered with the OPC Foundation to include several OPC specifications that define field device integration in the context of FDI technology. Their intention was to ensure that as systems evolve an open pathway to field device information is assured. This work holds significant value for automation end users, allowing them to take the data and information models for the applications and devices supported by FDI technology and leverage OPC-UA information modeling and corresponding services for complete application-to-device integration.

FieldComm Group and OPC Foundation, as of Q4 2017, have formed an official working group around the OPC Unified Architecture (UA) to develop an OPC-UA FDI Device Information Model for process automation. The goal of the working group is to leverage the extensive experience of FieldComm Group with the HART and FOUNDATION Fieldbus communication protocols to standardize data, information, and methods for all process automation devices through FDI using OPC UA. The OPC UA base information model and companion Device Information (DI) specification will be extended to include the generic definition and information associated with process automation devices. This information model is at the core of the FDI standard. It seamlessly integrates with OPC-UA to enable further integration with platforms like the Microsoft Azure IoT hub.

The OPC-UA FDI Device Information Model defines how the information of a field device – described by an Electronic Device Description (EDD) document – is mapped to OPC-UA Objects, Methods and Variables. The model is mainly based on OPC-UA for Devices specification; in fact, most of the OPC-UA for Devices model has been driven by FDI requirements.

The FDI architecture brings field devices to the IIoT, with each device type represented by a Device Package. FDI specifies a Device Information Model and uses OPC-UA communication to enable other applications to access it. This model is the single access point for external applications.

FDI also addresses cyber security with manufacturer-signed packages that hosts validate to ensure they’re genuine and haven’t been altered. This reduces the maintenance costs and security implications.

Realizing the promise of IIoT

Throughout the process industries, developments such as the IIoT will enable the transition from reactive to predictive maintenance, as well as the optimization of asset management strategies to improve operations and reduce costs. Their promise is full utilization of digitally available information from existing, installed field instruments to improve safety, operations, and reliability. Plant floor to executive office real-time access is key to delivering value to the enterprise.

By including all tools, documents, and interfaces in a single device package, FDI improves system integration efficiency and allows easier access by Information Technology (IT) systems to Operational Technology (OT) information. Moreover, it unifies device drivers, configuration tools, diagnostics and documentation regardless of operating system with an independent and downloadable software package compatible with any FDI-registered host system.

With its device information model (set forth in IEC 62541-100), the client/server architecture of FDI technology provides all functions for modeling real devices as virtual objects for the IIoT.

Manufacturers and other industrial firms deploying IIoT applications can connect to valuable information in intelligent field devices – regardless of protocol – by using FDI to integrate the information in a process control system, asset management tool or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system; visualize and evaluate the data; and then take action based on the information to prevent shutdowns, lower operating costs, reduce maintenance expenses, and become more predictive in how plants are run.

Looking to the future

For industrial organizations of all sizes, utilization of digital intelligence empowered by the IIoT will create more capital investment. Higher field reliability will help ensure increased uptime, safer operations, and greater efficiency. Advanced automation technology will also raise productivity, manage assets over their entire lifecycle, and optimize experts' knowledge to drive profitable business results.

The future is sure to bring additional advancements in digital transformation. For example, the FieldComm Group-OPC Foundation Integration Working Group is currently enhancing the OPC-UA FDI Device Information Model specification to provide semantics for machine-readable information. When complete, this specification will allow cloud-based applications to process field device information without extra configuration.

Thanks to FDI, automation suppliers and end users can look forward to applying a single integration technology that can translate the binary data delivered by any communication protocol into tangible information that can be displayed and used by systems at varying levels throughout the enterprise.


The future is digital, and digital should be intuitive and easy to use. FDI is a versatile device integration technology that has been designed to meet current and future plant needs, which include investment protection, robustness, easy system administration, easy to use devices, interoperability, and simple migration.

For more information, please visit the FDI Technology page on the FieldComm Group website.