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Tapping plentiful device information improves plant reliability, efficiency

April 20, 2015
Intelligent device information provides insight into system and network performance, letting operators maximize efficiency

Information Integration

With an aging workforce ready to retire, a reduction in budget and manpower resources and the need to evaluate much more information before making critical decisions, it is important that you use all of the information available. Today's measurement and control devices typically are an overlooked or underutilized resource that can dramatically aid in your plant’s decision making process.

Devices today are not only configurable but also very intelligent. They provide device and process information quickly so users can diagnose both devices and communication networks. Using one of the many available industrial field communication protocols (Foundation fieldbus, HART, Profibus, etc.) and an asset management application, you can facilitate intelligent information integration into the work and decision making process. Once integrated, this information can become part of what ARC Advisory Group calls the Industrial Internet of Things, providing real-time access to information that helps increase plant reliability and efficiency.

Today, plant asset management applications are used to configure, monitor and diagnose devices as well as fieldbuses, digital communication networks and gateways that provide valuable segment and network diagnostics. The application can be a PC-based tool or embedded in a control system. With this application, users have an easy-to-use graphical interface to support all the functions needed for device and asset management.

The FDT Solution

FDT (Field Device Tool) Technology is an interface specification for the open data exchange between field devices and automation systems. It’s been standardized by the international standards IEC 62453, ISA103, and GB/T 29618.  FDT is comprised of two important software components: DTM (Device Type Manager, or "device driver") and the Frame Application (i.e. configuration or asset management application. These software components can only function when both are present in an application.

Getting the right information, to the right place, at the right time, using installed devices that use a low-cost, low-risk solution, sounds very appealing. Device DTMs are offered by all major device suppliers on FDT-enabled control system or stand-alone asset application from a systems vendor. They deliver valuable device and process information enabling many cost-saving and operational improvements. Lower maintenance cost, improved reliability and increased safety are just a few benefits users from around the globe have uncovered.


The FDT concept can be simplistically explained by comparing it to a computer printer. A printer requires a compatible device driver that contains the integrated graphical user interface, which  is standardized with the same functions in different applications(Figure 1). Shown in the figure, the measurement device and printer are supplied with a software driver that allows the computer to access all functions of the printer. With FDT, the device driver (DTM) for the field devices is supplied by the device supplier, allowing access to the device functions and parameters via a graphical user interface – independent of the software or application selected. Through the FDT specification, interoperability is ensured via “plug and play” fashion, so DTMs from any manufacturer can run in every FDT enabled control system or application for ease of device configuration and management (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Think of a DTM as similar to a device driver.

FDT Technology requires no special version of the field devices (for example, firmware or hardware) and can therefore be used universally for any smart device with a communications interface. The communication protocol supported by the device and the device properties are completely mapped by the FDT Technology software on the PC. Not only can greenfield plants be equipped with FDT from the ground up, brownfield plants can implement the technology in a scalable fashion. When retrofitting a system in a brownfield application, no modification or replacement of installed devices is required. The existing communication network or bus system and field devices may be used without change. To enable device configuration and management, DTMs are simply installed in the FDT-enabled system or application.

Freedom to Choose

Figure 2: Shows that a DTM plugs into an FDT enabled host/control system.

To the user, the biggest benefit of FDT Technology is flexibility! The standard has been fully developed to be independent of communication protocols and device / host vendors. No matter the plant infrastructure hierarchy of communications, FDT gives users have the freedom to choose field devices from over 66 different suppliers across process, factory and hybrid applications. With an FDT-enabled control system or stand-alone software application, users have full life-cycle management of devices and networks.

Stated differently, FDT Technology is protocol, product and system independent, giving users the flexibility needed to maximize their automation infrastructure as they strive to improve plant reliability. Other benefits include

  • scalability, letting users monitor a few critical inputs or thousands of inputs;
  • the flexibility to work within your established work processes;
  • low-risk,letting customers use the standard techniques and procedures used today;
  • low cost, because existing smart devices provide cost-effective solutions  that let customers access device information using standard communication protocols.

Increase Plant Reliability and Performance

With more than 8000device types supported by certified DTMs, and over 17FDT-enabled control systems and software applications from all major device and system suppliers; you can quickly improve plant reliability. Users report significant savings and process improvements as a result of using valuable information from their smart field devices.

Figure 3: No. of scheduled vs. actual control valves repaired during a turnaround.

The MOL Danube Refinery in Hungary is an example of what can happen when you move from a reactive or scheduled maintenance strategy for control valves to a predictive strategy based upon the use of device information. The number of control valves scheduled for maintenance during a turnaround (Figure 3) was reduced from 50-70 valves (depending on the operating unit) to five or less! This reduction didn’t just deliver big benefits with reduced cost, it also reduced the number of required days for the turnaround.

An asset management application at the Shell Scotford Upgrader facility in Alberta, Canada, demonstrates what can be done using the information from intelligent field devices. Utilizing an FDT-enabled system and DTMs, they were able to quickly configure 1,500 devices from 26 different device suppliers, keeping the project on schedule. After providing team training and updating their work process to include device configuration and diagnostics, they started using secondary variables to monitor remote heated device enclosures. They also initiated valve partial stroke testing, remotely monitored empty pipe detection on flowmeters and did much more.

As a result, the project team executed a safe and efficient start-up and continued safe and reliable plant operation.  They now utilize real-time instrument troubleshooting with a more predictive maintenance strategy. The overall savings is in excess of an estimated $7.1 million which includes hardware replacement and ongoing operational and maintenance expenses. A project leader comments that an asset management system will pay for itself by quickly and reliably providing the status of all devices in the plant. The other capabilities are an added bonus!

FDT Future Ready

The recent enhancements to the FDT Technology specification deliver benefits today and well into the future. Enhancements include; faster execution for mega installations(thousands of I/O), improved security, utilization of .NET technology, availability of a variety of development tools to make DTM development faster and many more. The latest FDT standard is FDI (Field Device Integration)ready, protecting your investment into the future!

FDI is an emerging standard that will soon start to gain prominence. It was created to offer greater compatibility of EDDL-based (Electronic Device Description Language) networks for the process industry only (HART, Foundation fieldbus, Profibus & Profinet), and will allow these networks to be more easily integrated with each other. However, there are many other networks that need to be integrated(see Figure 4) to build a complete solution. A method was needed to bring them all together to create scalable solutions. This is where the FDT standard comes into play, with its ability to standardize the communication and configuration interface between all field devices and host systems – including protocols and application in process, factory or hybrid manufacturing. Via FDT Technology, FDI will allow EDDL-based systems to be integrated into a host of other industrial networks.

Figure 4: FDT supports major field Field communication protocol in bothprocess and factory application

Getting Started

There is no better time to get started.  Take the first step and contact your automation and device suppliers to confirm the number of smart devices and system applications able to access intelligent device information. Using the valuable device and process information available is a key step to improve the decision making process, increasing plant reliability and gaining a competitive advantage – keeping you competitive!

The FDT website contains many White Papers on this topic as well as webinars and videos. Browse now.

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