Fieldbus Foundation's Project Gemstone designed to aid end users #fieldbus #pauto #ISA108 #FDI

April 19, 2013
Project Gemstone: Making the Fieldbus Experience Easy and App Centered

WALT: The Fieldbus Foundation continues to expand and evolve as more plants, especially greenfield plants like the Jamnagar Petrochemical Complex, use fieldbus exclusively. We asked Larry O'Brien, DCS expert, analyst, and marketing director of the Foundation to talk with us about the present and the future of the Fieldbus Foundation.

Project Gemstone: Making the Fieldbus Experience Easy and App Centered

WALT: The Fieldbus Foundation continues to expand and evolve as more plants, especially greenfield plants like the Jamnagar Petrochemical Complex, use fieldbus exclusively. We asked Larry O'Brien, DCS expert, analyst, and marketing director of the Foundation to talk with us about the present and the future of the Fieldbus Foundation.

LARRY: This is not your father's fieldbus. Fieldbus has evolved considerable over the past 20 years (yes, next year will be our 20th anniversary at the Fieldbus Foundation). We have many years of experience built up by our "power users" over two decades of using Foundation fieldbus. As an end user driven organization, we are taking all of this feedback from our dedicated end user customers, suppliers and engineering partners and we are driving it into a continuous improvement process to make the technology easier and easier to use.

LARRY: You may have noticed that the Fieldbus Foundation has been working on many projects that are centered on making the whole fieldbus experience easier to use and play well with other technologies. Our goal at the Fieldbus Foundation has always been to listen to the end users and provide a managed infrastructure for process automation that allows users to focus on their processes and their plants, not the technology that ties everything together behind the scenes.

WALT: That's key, isn't it?

LARRY: Technology should work, be easy to use, and be interoperable. Users need the right work processes to guide them in its successful application. They want to be able to combine devices from different networks together and manage them effectively, with minimal effort. Applications should be de designed to be easy to use and results should be achieved quickly. Our power users have taught us a lot about the technology and how to make it better, and we believe the best way to do this is through a continuous improvement process.

WALT: Continuous improvement processes are not often thought of in the same breath as standards, so this is a breath of fresh air. How are you approaching this?

LARRY: All of this thinking is going into Project Gemstone, which is our designation for the collective efforts going on right now at the Fieldbus Foundation. The ultimate goal of Gemstone is to make digital fieldbus technology easier to use than analog technology in every conceivable way, from device replacement to daily maintenance practices.

WALT: Tell me about Gemstone, Larry.

LARRY: Gemstone includes many of the initiatives we are already working on today, including Foundation for Remote Operations Management (ROM), FDI (Field Device Integration) Cooperation, and ISA108.

WALT: All of these initiatives are designed to make it easy for end users to get their jobs done, instead of having to learn more than they ever wanted to about communications or device interconnection or standards compliance. What are these initiatives, and exactly why should end users care?

LARRY: FOUNDATION for ROM (that's Remote Operations Management) technology allows users to integrate their WirelessHART, wired HART, ISA 100.11a devices, remote I/O, and soon Modbus into the Foundation fieldbus managed infrastructure. FDI Cooperation is designed to harmonize EDDL and FDT/DTM across all platforms and all vendors.

WALT: Are you talking about creating apps? Like an app store?

LARRY: Why not? We already have suppliers building intelligent device management applications around Foundation fieldbus. Companies like Emerson and Endress+Hauser are using the Field Diagnostics profile in the Foundation spec. to greatly improve the filtering and handling of device diagnostics. Many of the recent advancements we have made in our specification are geared not just toward the user. They allow suppliers to create more effective applications as well. If you are a small process automation supplier just starting out today, you can really use the Foundation fieldbus specification to create a whole control system offering. We have suppliers like APATechnologies that have done just that.

LARRY: FDI is working towards a single device integration package that will give end users all the benefits of EDDL and FDT/DTM technology.

WALT: Tell us some more about FDI. Who, besides the Fieldbus Foundation is behind it, and how likely is it that end users will actually get to use it and when?

LARRY: End users will get to use it! However, they may not even notice that it is there, and that's the point. FDI is another aspect of that "App like" thinking. FDI is designed to rationalize the disparate device management technologies such as EDDL and FDT into a common device package with a suite of common development tools. FDI will ultimately relieve the end user of having to concern themselves so much with the technology that manages the information from their smart devices. Instead, they can focus on managing that information to their best advantage. They can focus on their business, not the technology that ties everything together.

LARRY: The ISA108 standards effort is working towards defining recommended work processes for intelligent device management, regardless of communication protocol. Our new Usability Team is focusing on how to make device replacement easier and faster than ever.

WALT: This is like not having to know how to build a watch, in order to tell time and use time to schedule...end users aren't interested in how the technology works, but how to use the tech, right?

LARRY: Right! This all allows the user to focus more on what the technology can do for them and their businesses, versus how they should manage the technology itself. Because everything we are doing is based on standards, it also makes it easier for suppliers to develop products and applications for the technology.

WALT: Why is it important to insist on standards-based communications protocols, like Foundation fieldbus, HART, Profibus, and so forth instead of proprietary or custom protocols or APIs?

LARRY: I want to stress the importance of OPEN standards. Anyone can purchase the Foundation fieldbus specification and build products and applications on it. The end users have an active voice in the ongoing development of the standard. We follow rigorous procedures and processes in the ongoing development of the specification. It's peer reviewed by the people that actually use it. In this way, we are very different from other approaches that may adopt the "walled garden" approach of Apple and become more like an Android type of environment. That ultimately drives down development costs and makes it easier for supplier to develop applications for Foundation fieldbus.

LARRY: Finally, our testing and registration process at the Fieldbus Foundation is design to ensure that everything works together as it should. Our testing and registration process is the most comprehensive in the industry, and we have been doing it longer than anyone else. Today we have tested and registered close to a thousand different devices and hosts. We are on version 6 of our Interoperability Test Kit, and we have a new Host Profile Registration process that provides an unprecedented level of interoperability between different devices and host systems.

WALT: So end users can be sure they're getting what they think they are?

LARRY: Right. It's about the end user. Foundation fieldbus and Project Gemstone are truly centered on the requirements of the end user.

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