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How FDI reaches the cloud and enables digital transformation

Dec. 3, 2019
FDI standardizes interfaces so host systems need only one FDI Device Package per device type per protocol to successfully integrate each device.

The Field Device Integration (FDI) standard was developed through a collaboration between major industry foundations and suppliers to bring standardization to the packaging and distribution of all software and tools necessary to integrate a device with a host system.

In recent years, field devices and the systems they connect to have become more powerful, as has the software required to maximize value creation from their use. Staying current with changing operating systems, asset management system versions, user interfaces and device description (DD) releases is time-consuming and error-prone. To get around this, FDI standardizes their interfaces so host systems need only one FDI Device Package per device type per protocol to successfully integrate each device.

To do this, a physical device is virtualized in software as an FDI Device Package—a single file (*.fdix) that contains all the device information including device definitions, user interface plug-ins, certificates, device manuals and other components that are essential for managing the field device in the plant.

“If you want to measure temperature in your process application or plant, you want to use a great device, but you need the right tools to configure it, such as ABB’s Field Information Manager (FIM) software,” says Hendrik Deckert, technical product manager for measurement and analytics, Industrial Automation division, ABB. “However, there’s usually equipment from other vendors in the same facility, and you don’t want to install new software for each product. This is why the FieldComm Group created standard Field Device Integration (FDI) drivers for configuring HART, PROFIBUS and FOUNDATION Fieldbus.”

Softing Industrial Automation provides communication hardware, including “mobiLink” Bluetooth interface, gateways, and network hardware and software for HART, FOUNDATION Fieldbus and PROFIBUS PA. “One specialized interface allows you to convert communication of different protocols,” says Thomas Rummel, senior vice president, engineering and product management, industrial data networks, at Softing. “Until now, we’ve had to talk to the vendors of different tools and do integration on the API level, which we can’t re-use. With FDI, we can use the same server for multiple tools."

Connects any protocol

The Field Device Integration (FDI) standard is not another protocol. It's an integration technology that brings standardization to device installation and configuration. The FDI Device Package is a single file that contains all drivers, documentation and user interfaces to manage a field device. 

Provides cybersecurity: FDI technology deploys state-of-the-art security measures including secure FDI Device Packages, sandbox environments for user interface plug-ins (UIPs), and OPc US security capabilities. 

Standardizes device management: FDI Device Package repository streamlines the process of device revision management. As the authoritative source for registered FDI Device Packages, it simplifies maintenance by providing a simple way to obtain the correct device files for your installation. 

FDT is similar, using common Device Type Managers (DTM), but FDI offers contrinuation of the DD approach.

Deckert reports HART originally used electronic device description (EDD) text files that covered all the properties and variables for each particular device. “This method was sufficient for basic temperature, pressure and other components, but as instruments grew more complex and took on multiple roles thanks to more powerful microprocessors, EDDs just couldn’t keep up,” explains Deckert. The initial solution was the Field Device Tool (FDT) standard and the FDT Group’s DTM that performs program calculations aided by an EDD-based user interface description (UID), while it’s still located inside an EDD. This allowed simple temperature devices to keep using EDDs, while more complicated device like flowmeters could use DTMs.

“With scalable FDI Device Packages, users can employ descriptive UIDs or use UIDs with active code for complex instruments. These two scalable parts are what FDI is all about—not more double configuration work for users,” explains Deckert. “For example, our FIM software for FDI has been adapted to accept UIDs in legacy field devices, which means users can add their installed base to a FIM system, and don’t have to rip and replace. Plus, while old devices don’t have to be replaced, they can be exchanged if the user decides to. In addition, even though most vendors follow FDI, ABB’s FIM also works with UIDs, so users aren’t dependent if a vendor hasn’t followed it.

“This is really FDI’s most significant improvement—all the documentation users need is in one device package, so users aren’t limited if internet coverage is lacking. Also, only the vendor’s team can create the attached files for their device.”

As an emerging technology, FDI is gradually becoming readily available in the market. “It’s in release now, and there are tools out there, Siemens, Emerson, Honeywell, ABB and others are strongly committed to FDI,” says Rummel. “The benefit is, you have one concept of serving HART, FOUNDATION Fieldbus, PROFIBUS PA and even other protocols—one for all protocols, instead of something similar, but not the same. In the future, it will allow you to do a single network across the enterprise. We’ll have better network architectures with common servers running on it. The integration improves the system architecture, and a gateway with a server can communicate with the devices.” 

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