Open the Borders

Oct. 1, 2016
FieldComm Group technologies let information flow throughout the Industrial Internet of Things.

In essence, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a network, which means it needs input from plant-floor devices and systems, so users can make more profitable decisions. Data is what fills IIoT’s tanks and gets it on the road, and much of that data has long been available from FieldComm Group technologies including Foundation Fieldbus, HART and WirelessHART.

“Foundation Fieldbus, HART and WirelessHART are the granddaddies of IIoT because they’re the backbone that gets data to places that need to know what’s going on with remote operations,” says Dave Lancaster, PE, certified Foundation Fieldbus instructor at Trine University. “In the past, much of this data wasn’t available, so we might not be able to tell what was happening. For example, a failing resistance temperature detector (RTD) on a gas dryer wouldn’t be detected until after it shut down. Now, that RTD is one of five or six Foundation Fieldbus devices on one pair of wires with diagnostic data tied to graphics in the control room. When we see its temperature isn’t as low as required, we click on the temperature sensor, pull up its diagnostics, and it reports there’s a sensor failure. So we send out the maintenance guy, and he tightens the loose wire in the RTD without a costly shutdown. This whole problem is analyzed and fixed in 20 minutes, which isn’t possible without Foundation Fieldbus.”

It’s good that FieldComm Group protocols are so proficient at delivering information, because IIoT is going to want a lot of it. “Oil prices have been down for 18 months, so there’s pressure to eke out the last bits of profitability, but most want to do it with existing applications,” says Arnold Offner, strategic marketing manager for Phoenix Contact. “This is why IIoT and its users want digital data. We can remind them that Foundation Fieldbus and HART have been providing behavioral information from flowmeters, pressure transmitters and valve positioners. However, it’s going to take a lot of education, so we produced a video, “Introduction to HART Technology.” We also introduced a combined-function HART Multiplex Master last year, which can interrogate up to 40 devices, each with its own HART master (modem); get process data from anywhere; and scale it onto any device. This is what IIoT is.”

From edge to enterprise

To streamline the trip from field or operations levels to business and management levels, FieldComm Group has also developed its HART-IP (Internet Protocol) specification. 

“HART-IP simplifies and provides complete access to data in devices via local automation networks and the Internet to enable tasks like predictive maintenance. It extends HART communication to the IP protocol, and that means worldwide access,” says Kurt Polzer, senior consultant for device integration systems at Siemens Industry. “This lets operators talk to a HART device just by using WirelessHART adapters like Sitrans AW210. At the front-end, they can use our Simatic PDM software and the HART server provided by the FieldCom Group. Another big benefit is that data can be sent from the field to cloud applications like Siemens’ MindSphere service that allows deeper insight into processes, and if needed, enables direct access to HART devices.”

Jianwei Wei, industrial communications manager at Microcyber Corp. ( in Shenyang, China, says the two main options for delivering field data to the enterprise are via gateways from fieldbuses to Ethernet or though a programmable logic controller (PLC) or distributed control system (DCS) that can communicate with a fieldbus, which can be done with components like Microcyber’s Fieldbus Interface Module.

“These newer solutions are easier because they don’t require as many communication details. You just connect and integrate, which is helpful because China’s market for fieldbus and IoT is growing fast,” says Wei. “Traditional field devices with analog interfaces and 4-20 mA networking only provide process values and only let users receive limited information, but don’t have information about the device itself and whether those values are good or bad. The reason digital data from Foundation Fieldbus, HART and WirelessHART are so valuable to the IIoT is because they provide much more process and device information, so users can know much more about what’s going on in the field, which means better operations and maintenance. By using an intelligent transmitter with a gateway interface module and these protocols, users can gather information about whether pipes are blocked, for example, get operating data as it happens, or configure field devices from the control room.”

Some devices have built-in Ethernet capabilities, such as ST100 flowmeters from Fluid Components International (FCI) which use Ethernet utilities as a remote configuration tool and bus communication protocols that can communicate with Ethernet networks via gateways. “We’re sending data to PLCs and DCSs via HART and Foundation Fieldbus, and merging multiple signals, devices and platforms. This lets users do real-time diagnostics, perform tasks like predictive maintenance, and send information to where it’s needed,” says Darrius Nowell, U.S. field service manager for FCI. “Our flowmeters have manufacturer-specific commands, which communicate a device’s bus address, slot and index number, and ask about issues like deterioration, process flow, temperature and pressure. Together, HART and Foundation Fieldbus are tremendously capable of accessing process data, such as device status, loop checks, simulation, signal integrity, etc., and these are vital to the future of IIoT.”

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Standards simplify device integration       

One of the major forces straightening and shortening the path between field devices and the enterprise is increasingly uniform and standardized programming and data presentation methods, culminating recently in the FieldComm Group Field Device Integration (FDI) program and standards effort. Once process data is gathered and standardized, Ethernet gateways can move it to upper levels via Foundation Fieldbus’ established High-Speed Ethernet (HSE) protocol, or send HART data using HART-IP.

“Once data reaches Ethernet, it can go anywhere,” says Chuck Carter, consultant, teacher and former director of the Fieldbus Center at Lee College. “This means temperature data can help determine if a thermocouple is degrading; alert local operators to be ready to fix it via Ethernet; share the overall failure rate of this thermocouple type with the purchasing department; and help users decide if it’s time to change to another type. This is the true gist of what IIoT can do. However, it’s FieldComm Group protocols that bring disparate parties and devices together, and let them coordinate their efforts.

Thad Frost, fieldbus and I/O connectivity director at Schneider Electric, adds that, “Using smart instruments for configuration is really just the tip of the iceberg when you can also automate diagnostics, predictive maintenance and ordering. Knowing the number of times a valves has opened and closed, or that it will fail in three months, can increase purchasing lead times and maintenance flexibility. However, many users aren’t prepared for all that instrument and asset data coming in, so we recently established our Maintenance Response Center to help analyze and use fieldbus data, and troubleshoot more effectively by identifying what equipment needs to be fixed. It includes a software interface to smart devices and dashboard to help identify and solve problems.” (A video about the center is available here.)

IIoT goes wireless

Because wireless sensing prices have dropped in recent years, users can add “eyes and ears” more easily and inexpensively, and collect many more measurements. “This is where WirelessHART comes in and enables IIoT because it’s a cost-effective way to add more sensors,” adds Bob Karshnia, vice president and general manager of the wireless division at Emerson Process Management. “It’s simple because users don’t have to learn a lot. Its security is built-in at a lower level. And, its robust, self-organizing, mesh technology is tolerant of things in a plant that often can’t be controlled. This lays the groundwork for implementing analytics-based software, which can ‘decide’ which better equipment performance will improve financial value. IIoT is even changing the whole supplier business model because many are retaining equipment ownership, and instead selling answers and performance to their customers.”

Controls help HART add value

To remove even more old hurdles between operations and business levels, some control systems are adjusting how they interact with HART to make it easier to pull in data, according to Mike Cushing, product marketing manager, Experion and I/O group at Honeywell Process Solutions.

“For instance, our Field Device Manager (FDM) software did maintenance by extracting process data via a multiplexer, but now that information can go directly to the controller without a multiplexer and the time, labor and hardware it requires,” says Cushing. “One of the biggest traditional maintenance costs is for valves. If one is offline, then its data is usually pulled from its positioner. Now, with data coming in from a whole group of 25 valves and their positioners, for example, we can look at all of their open/close curves over time, and see which curves are changing due to loosening packing or seal loss. We can also check their stiction, travel and behavior, and know ahead of time which five need to be pulled and repaired, instead of pulling all of them as we used to do. We can also see which parts will be needed, which means faster turnarounds.”