Registration assures value

Nov. 15, 2017
The path to a registered checkmark is rigorous, but smooth

FOUNDATION  Fieldbus and HART provide valuable information and powerful communications, but these capabilities can be incomplete and integration may be difficult if the software and hardware are not designed and engineered to conform with the specifications. The FieldComm Group helps users avoid problems by offering assistance to suppliers in the form of consultation and testing services. Products that pass the tests conform to the specifications, are registered and may display the “Registered” logo associated with its implemented technology, which assures the specified functionality and interoperability.

“Testing and registration is very important,” says Sean Vincent, director, technical services, FieldComm Group. “It provides third-party verification of conformance to standards, which results in better products that perform reliably and predictably for the end user.”

This recognition is important both to suppliers and users. “Third-party registration provides peace of mind to the specifying engineer—the manufacturer says it’s good, and the FieldComm Group says it meets the certification requirements,” says Eric Wible, director of engineering, Fluid Components International (FCI).

“For suppliers, the customers will not spec you if you don’t have it,” Wible says. “For the user, if there is any issue in bringing the instrument up on startup, you’ll get the full attention of the FieldComm Group as well as the manufacturer.”

Device manufacturers agree that registration benefits everyone. “Users benefit from such tests because they know that field devices provided by Endress+Hauser will properly work in their system environment,” says Lukas Klausmann, senior marketing manager, Industrial Communication, Endress+Hauser “Furthermore, risks in plant operation, as well as during commissioning and startup, will be reduced.”

As a field device and solutions provider, Endress+Hauser benefits from testing because it ensures proper integration of field devices and solutions in different system environments and industries. “Based on FieldComm Group compatibility, Endress+Hauser makes further tests with the field device in our own test lab with all major systems to ensure that additional device-specific benefits are available for the users in their environment,” Klausmann adds.

In short, says Scott Saunders, president and CEO, Moore Industries, “It’s another layer we have to go through, but if I put myself in the customers’ shoes, and I always do, I want to know that device in service will work with another vendor’s device.” The net result is a user that can choose the best-in-class product for his/her application.

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Testing is a process, not an event

Before a hardware or software product is registered, it is tested to ensure that it not only communicates the specified parameters as expected, but that it does so in many different possible scenarios and under adverse conditions often found in industrial networking applications.

There are required capabilities, such as read/write, and optional capabilities for various devices. “The specifications tell you many things about possibilities, and the tests verify single or multiple implementations of those possibilities,” says Vincent.

Test cases are written in software, and automated testing tools exercise the permutations. “Along with the positive cases, where we make sure it works, we test many more negative cases using erroneous information, and simulate mistakes and network malfunctions to make sure the device tolerates and recovers from error conditions, and keeps working,” Vincent says. “This makes sure the devices are robust.”

The registration process starts long before the test date. “Most projects start with the specifications. The vendor’s development team gets training and serves as the primary developers, but others may help,” Vincent says. “Questions are answered by FieldComm Group and the vendors’ trained experts.”

As they develop the product, vendors can use quality assurance (QA) test tools to be sure the performance is there early in the process so they can raise issues and resolve questions. “Being engaged with the tools and tests along the way really shows at the end test,” Vincent says. “Development may take months or years, so we view it as a long-term partnership. There are many options, and we expect questions along the way.

“We try to make everything clear so people pass the first time. Discrepancies are caught early during the test process.”

The test backlog, or queue, has been eliminated. “All tests are done on a schedule now. We schedule them based on clients’ start dates and plans,” Vincent says. “We schedule up to a year in advance, but there are generally openings within a week or two.”

The registration process and test labs are not adversarial. “They help and support both users and registrants, and I must mention, you don’t have to be a member to register a product,” Vincent says. “It’s a partnership of vendors, the FieldComm Group and users. We help by performing audits and providing education. When a test fails, it’s usually due to an oversight or misunderstanding. It’s a chance for us to work together to resolve it.”

Cooperation assures success

“The process of certification testing is important because suppliers can verify whether the device meets the specification and ensure the device is stable and reliable,” says Huixuan Yu, senior engineer, Microcyber, which produces registered products for WirelessHART. “During the process of testing, suppliers can get a better understanding of the technology for research and development of related products in the future.”

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For example, Microcyber purchased the relevant test equipment from the FieldComm Group and tested its device before the official certification test. During testing, “We and the FieldComm group exchanged feedback to validate the latest, upgraded test system,” Yu says. “After the test was completed in our facility, we submitted the device to the FieldComm Group for official testing, and received authorized certification.”

The process instrument manufacturer must fully understand the test protocol, the specification, and how it applies to their instrument. “They may fail several times and have to go back and tweak it, but they can apply those learnings to the next model,” says FCI’s Wible. “Understand the test protocol, and things will go smoothly. There’s always some frustration, but you need to really know it to get certified, and the users understand that.”

Moore Industries concurs. “FieldComm Group supplies the toolkit, we can do all the communications testing here, work out any kinks and bugs, then send it to the lab,” says Saunders. “It saves us on service and support—we don’t want to sell an $800 instrument, then spend $5,000 getting it up and running.”

Once registered, Yu says, “Devices approved by the FieldComm Group are quality-assured, and suppliers can use the ‘Registered’ mark in literature, documentation and marketing materials. Users prefer to choose registered devices.”

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