Shell's Long-Time Push for Fieldbus

Nov. 18, 2009
What's Next? Making Foundation Fieldbus Systems More Mature. Meaning, Making Them More Broadly Applicable in Projects

This article was printed in CONTROL's November 2009 edition.

By Jim Montague, Executive Editor

There isn't exactly a bumper crop of heroes in the fieldbus and industrial networking arenas. Consequently, though many end users and integrators are implementing digital fieldbuses these days, few, if any, have pioneered their use and pushed for their adoption as hard as Shell ( A variety of engineers, end users, fieldbus organizations and suppliers report that Shell's demand for better fieldbus tools has helped drive many recent improvements in fieldbus methods, as well as spur cooperation among the fieldbus trade organizations.  

"Shell started using Foundation fieldbus (FF) technology in the Upstream Malampaya project in the Philippines in 1998, and then at Sakhalin in 2000, and at Nanhai Chemical Plant in 2001. Reviewing these first FF projects now, it's clear we've moved into a more ‘technology demanding' schedule today," says Rong Pieter Gul, instrumentation and automation consultant at Shell Global Solutions International BV. "We started carefully with three to five devices on one FF H1 segment, but after 2002, we moved to eight to 10 devices on a segment. Those first projects helped us get comfortable with using FF technology and develop our guidelines and best practices."

Since then, Gul adds, Shell has made more effective use of fieldbus-based diagnostics, and this has gone hand in hand with emerging asset management functions in systems like PRM, AMS and FDM.

"We're really changing the maintenance concepts now from reactive and/or scheduled maintenance to condition-based and proactive maintenance, and this is enabled by the effective use of the device diagnostics," explains Gul. "Now all Shell's major investment projects use FF as much as possible. These include Pearl GTL in Qatar, Houdini Chemical in Singapore, Port Arthur Refinery's Crude Expansion project, and the AOSP Oil Sands project in Canada.

"Besides the mega projects, many of our re-instrumentation projects also use FF. These big re-instrumentation projects include Bukom Refinery in Singapore, Deer Park Refinery in Texas, and the Rhineland and Heide Refineries in Germany. Also, the new HDS-6 (clean diesel plant) in Pernis, Holland, will be fully FF."

As for other fieldbuses, Gul adds that presently FF technology can only be used for the process control and monitoring part of the projects. "It's not yet approved for use in safety," he says. "All safeguarding devices, fire and gas included, will be 4-20mA HART. We do not consider HART as a fieldbus, but HART data is now also used more and more for diagnostic input in the various asset management systems, rather than just for configuration. Profibus PA will not be used in Shell projects, but Profibus DP is used frequently for discrete I/O, MCC cabinet communication with DCS, etc."

Because his company already is using Foundation fieldbus as the standard in greenfield projects, Shell's Gul reports the next step will be to make FF systems more mature, which means making them more broadly applicable in projects. "We had a successful press event for FF-SIS in May 2008 at our facilities in Amsterdam, and it will be further tested during the next couple of years," says Gul. "Our aim is to have FF-SIS available for first project application about three years from now.

"Also, moving from the current 31.25 kbps to high-speed Ethernet (HSE) on H1 level is another possible improvement topic. We see the current bandwidth as insufficient to deal with the increasing traffic on the H1 segment because there are more diagnostics and other tasks from multiplying devices. So, while FF  systems are recognized as the main important feature, HSE on H1 is on our improvement list as well. Also, all current developments, such as FF 902 transducer block common structure and FF 906 valve positioned transducer block structure, will be strongly supported by Shell, and Shell already participates in most of these committees." Thanks, guys.