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Many protocols, one organization

Oct. 12, 2015
FieldComm Group provides a global one-stop shop for standards, certifications and training

It's been more than a decade since advocates of Foundation Fieldbus, HART and PROFIBUS accepted the proposition that, since various protocols would have to coexist, they would cooperate to make them work better together. The latest development in that effort is formation of the FieldComm Group, January 1 of this year.

"The HART Communication Foundation and Fieldbus Foundation have operated similarly in their roles, and their technologies complement each other around the common goal of helping users automate to leverage real-time digital data from field devices in their plants," says Ted Masters, president and CEO, FieldComm Group. "FieldComm Group was formed by combining these former foundations to create a new entity, which provides a home for their technologies."

According to FieldComm Group's mission statement, the new organization was established to "Develop, manage and promote global standards for integrating digital devices into automation system architectures while protecting existing investments in the HART and Foundation Fieldbus communication technologies."

Masters says, "Although ‘Group' replaces ‘Foundation' in the new organization, the HART and Foundation Fieldbus core technologies and branding remain and will be enhanced. All existing registration marks and identifications will also be retained.

"Going forward, we are also now the home of Field Device Integration (FDI) technology and lead its adoption as the integration standard for process automation."

FDI technology was created by the FDI Cooperation, LLC, which was dissolved at the end of July and responsibility for FDI was handed over to FieldComm Group. "FieldComm Group builds on FDI Cooperation's work to allow Foundation Fieldbus and WirelessHART to work with PROFIBUS," says Stephen Mitschke, program director, FieldComm Group.

FDI simplifies device integration

FDI opens the door for integrating OPC and PROFIBUS PA. "FieldComm Group sets a new collaborative tone for the industry, including Fieldbus Foundation, HART, OPC and PROFIBUS International," says Mitschke. "We've worked together for years, starting more than 10 years ago, since the end of the Fieldbus Wars, on FDI and EDDL [Electronic Device Description Language]. The difference now is we're being even more collaborative than competitive, more successful working together and combining resources."

Applications of intelligent field devices predominantly rely on HART, Foundation Fieldbus and PROFIBUS PA communications. "A typical process plant has hundreds or thousands of field devices deployed, often using at least two of these three device interfaces," wrote Harry Forbes, senior analyst, ARC Advisory Group, in a recent ARC View. They might use several different device management software applications, each with different technologies for device management.

"We have worked with a number of end users, and when we ask, how well are you doing with device management, they say they have too many technologies that are too different and don't scale. It takes too much expertise and too much time," Forbes says. "Managing thousands of devices with multiple interfaces, multiple management technologies, and multiple tools makes device management a frequent pain point for process plants."

End users may not realize that this same jumble of technology is also very difficult for device suppliers to manage. Each protocol has had its own organization that develops the technology, supports it and certifies compliance. "Device suppliers generally have to support every one of them," Forbes says. "This is costly, consumes a great deal of scarce human resources, and adds very little incremental value."

TECHNOLOGIES work together

FieldComm Group was formed to help users and members by combining forces around the common interest of helping them automate. The digital intelligence in field devices is powerful and still underutilized. By integrating this data across the enterprise, it can be used by the many systems and software that can convert it into actionable intelligence and capture value by improved operation.

In the past, end users have had to maintain separate but equal relationships with the foundations. "Today, it's still mostly the same member companies who have been delivering the technology and writing the specifications for Foundation Fieldbus," says John Rezabek, process control specialist, Ashland, Inc. "We have the same relationship with the HART people, talking about what could be better.

"We all use HART as well as Foundation Fieldbus, because it works. And if you have a safety system, you use HART because Foundation Fieldbus doesn't have as large a range of devices, and neither does ProfiSafe. If they did, you might be locked into a single vendor. Then is that an open system?"

To solve the integration problem, "It stands to reason there would be convergence, even at the glacial pace at which it's come about," says Forbes. "Industrial communication and devices is a niche market. This kind of convergence of technologies makes sense, with FieldComm Group managing the technology for HART, Foundation Fieldbus and PROFIBUS International using FDI, a single deliverable that will manage devices on all those networks."

Bringing HART Communication Foundation and Fieldbus Foundation together streamlines standardization, certification and education for both device manufacturers and users. "Many of the same people were attending multiple meetings," says Mitschke. "Now these precious resources can work with a single organization to coordinate meetings, schedules and working groups. Where there were three groups devoted to device integration, now there's one. It's easier to get the right folks together."

Close collaboration allows a "holistic approach to cyber security" and facilitates advanced applications. "Foundation Fieldbus, HART and PROFIBUS are in a combined group with OPC and FDT," Mitschke adds. "We can work better together. There's one place to get the resources, and one place to send the bill."

FieldComm Group is "a consensus organization that's bigger than the sum of its parts, where we can come together, share ideas," says Sean Vincent, director, technical services, registration and training, FieldComm Group. "Whether it's about cyber security, advanced applications or usability, our focus is on solving problems regardless of the technology. We're free to make changes unbound by specific domains."
support, certification and training.

The new organization of FieldComm Group remains in Austin, Texas, and combines executive level strategy and direction at the board level with solid and efficient execution and coordination around the globe. The board consists of the combined boards of the legacy foundations and adds a Strategic Technology Committee to provide leadership and strategic direction from a diverse group of technical experts across leading companies (see chart).

The new structure offers strategic advantages to automation end users, suppliers and other industry stakeholders working together based on a unified message. Additional benefits will result from leveraging combined resources to improve quality, consistency and efficiency across technologies, while replacing the duality of administrative duties.

FieldComm Group separates the delivery of technical services from the technology direction and program management functions to ensure sound futures for the technology as well as excellent service to its members. "Registration for HART and Foundation Fieldbus products now has a combined lab and resources, with a single point of contact for questions and problems," says Vincent. "We have combined registrations for products and EDDs—H1, HART, WirelessHART, hosts—streamlined through a single lab." For a list of components certified this year, see page S-31.

FDI certification testing will be coordinated with PROFIBUS and PROFINET International (PI). "The certification tests of PROFIBUS and PROFINET products with FDI will be performed in accredited vendor-neutral PI Test Labs and the certificates issued by the PI certification body," says Dr. Peter Wenzel, PROFIBUS Nutzerorganisation e.V. "Users all over the world can be sure that a device that has been tested in PI test labs is tested to the same specifications with the same test procedures."

FieldComm Group's training and education program for users and developers encompasses both HART and Foundation Fieldbus technologies, and unifies EDD and FDI across all product types. "The Foundation Certified Training Program (FCTP) is relaunched and rebranded to cover HART, Foundation Fieldbus and FDI," says Vincent. (See Course Offerings.)

Marketing functions are coordinated in each area to promote the message of "automation to connect and integrate digital information" and to drive the adoption of FDI as the new integration standard for process automation.

"In addition to serving as the home for HART, Foundation Fieldbus and FDI solutions, the Group provides a venue for all companies and associations serving the process automation market to share thought leadership," says Masters. "Culturally, we are receptive to collaborating with leading technologies outside of our organization to find common ground for the betterment of the industry. FDI is a giant step in this effort with international standards organizations such as PROFIBUS International, OPC and FDT Group, already working together. Participation through FieldComm Group Working Groups will also help to standardize the user experience with intelligent device management.

"The message is simple. We want users to gain the value of digital data by leveraging the many member solutions across process automation communication technologies," Master says. "It is well proven from end users cases time and time again, that users can use real-time data to run their operations and enterprises better to improve performance."

The PROFIBUS connection

FieldComm Group represents Foundation Fieldbus and HART in all their wired, wireless and Ethernet forms, plus the FDI technology that allows them to share the same software applications with PROFIBUS PA and OPC. "We are co-owners of some tools with Profibus International, and we have specialized agreements to maintain those tools. It's an environment where they trust us, work with us and can contribute," says Stephen Mitschke, program director, FieldComm Group.

"As requested by the end users from process industries, the major automation foundations FDT Group, FieldComm Group, PROFIBUS & PROFINET International (PI) and OPC Foundation have developed FDI as a single common integration solution by joining the FDI Cooperation, which meanwhile has been dissolved since the goals have been achieved," says Dr. Peter Wenzel, Profibus Nutzerorganisation e.V. (PNO). "At the dissolution of the FDI Cooperation, FieldComm Group, FDT, OPC and PI became joint owners of the FDI Specification, and FieldComm Group along with PI became joint owners of the FDI tools and components."

Tools and components support the controller and device manufacturers in integrating FDI into their products, thus, "FieldComm Group and PI will cooperate through dedicated working groups to maintain and further develop FDI tools and components with a strong end user focus," Wenzel says. "FieldComm Group will become the ‘home of FDI Technology,' which means it will provide their working group infrastructure and manage the activities."

The major goal of the participating foundations is to serve their members and the users, which are customers of the foundation members, by providing FDI as a single integration technology for all supported communication technologies. "This requires a close cooperation," Wenzel says. "PI's own experts will therefore be represented in all relevant activities, which guarantees the best results and best benefit to users. PI will actively participate in the further development of FDI and will provide PROFIBUS- and PROFINET-specific parts in developer tools, as well."

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