For decades now, the process industries’ vast installed base of field instruments have come equipped with onboard microprocessors and digital communication links. But a variety of communication protocols and integration standards has made communicating with and managing those instruments—whether for data access, commissioning, maintenance or other troubleshooting task—an often cumbersome chore.
But a new tool from ABB called the Field Information Manager promises to deliver a new level of efficiency to field device management and integration, according to Neil Shah, global product manager, fieldbus & asset optimization, ABB, who spoke at ABB Customer World 2019 in Houston.
“These software tools must be easy to install, use and maintain,” he explained. “Users need tools that are robust enough and yet simple enough. They must also be flexible, accommodating standalone operation in the field or integration with host control systems.”
Importantly, Field Information Manager leverages FDI technology, a key standard that unifies device drivers, configuration tools, diagnostics and documentation regardless of operating system. It supports both legacy device descriptions and new FDI packages, meaning one tool for both existing and new devices.
“There are, give or take, 120 instrumentation vendors,” said Shah. “But we are the first with a fully FDI-compliant tool. It installs quickly on Windows tablets and workstations, scans, identifies and enables access to devices within 5 minutes. It’s efficient, productive and features an innovative graphical user interface. And it enables easy and efficient bulk device configuration of HART and Profibus devices.”
FDI promises easy maintenance
Of the various integration technologies, the power of FDI is easiest to maintain. “Don’t compromise anymore,” recommended Shah, by relying on older methodologies such as DTM (Device Type Managers) and EDD (Electronic Device Descriptors).
“DTM-based tools require the DTMs to be installed on each node. DTMs are OS-dependent software components and need to be maintained over the system lifecycle. On the other hand, tools that support only EDD offer very limited functionality, specifically when diagnostic data analysis is key for the future.
“Field Information Manager is based on FDI, which uses device packages and benefits from the simplicity of EDDs, as well as offers graphic capabilities of DTMs. The device packages are not installed but are just loaded in the machine, added Shah. “Field Information Manager also supports user interface plugin (UIP), which enables graphic-rich features like DTM,” said Shah. “And it comes with generic device packages that can be used with any HART device. Additionally, it supports legacy HART devices. But our main concern was ease of use and navigation.”
Traditional tools often take many clicks to navigate, added Shah. “Users must remember the menus where a certain parameter is located,” he said. “Field Information Manager, with its patented high-performance user interface, allows the user to access device menus at a touch. The device menu options can be accessed always in the same way, irrespective of the device make and model.”
The device-driver online repository also streamlines efficiency. “How many times have you had to look online for a device driver?” asked Shah. “Sometimes it’s in the middle of the night. I know how painful it is. The device-driver online repository helps to locate and download the right device driver and eliminates trial and error.”
Of course, the Field Information Manager is part of ABB Ability and its remote monitoring and collaborative advantages. “Sensor-to-cloud connectivity and dash-boarding are opening up huge opportunities,” said Shah. “Sensor-to-cloud connectivity enables easy and quick analysis of asset data. Digitalization of sensor data can help companies to reduce operating expenses and more importantly avoid unplanned shutdowns. Field Information Manager comes with an OPC UA server that connects to ABB Ability. Sensor configuration and diagnostic data are available without any additional configuration effort. This opens opportunities, such as remote service, remote verification, fleet reporting and analysis of sensor/actuator diagnostics.”