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Solutions Spotlight: Connecting the world of process automation

Dec. 21, 2022
A Control Amplified podcast with Paul Sereiko, director of marketing, FieldComm Group

In this special edition of Control Amplified: The Process Automation Podcast, we bring you an interview from the Remaking Industry podcast from Smart Industry magazine. In this guest episode, Smart Industry editor in chief Chris McNamara is joined by Paul Sereiko, director of marketing, FieldComm Group, to discuss the impacts of digitalization and some of the organization's latest collaborations to create standards that encourage interoperability.


Keith Larson: Hello, this is Keith Larson, publisher of Control magazine and Here for this episode of Control Amplified, I'm pleased to introduce you to the Remaking Industry podcast, published by our sister magazine Smart Industry. So, without further ado, the next voice you'll hear is Chris McNamara, editor in chief of Smart Industry. 

Take care and have a great day.

Chris McNamara: Okay, thank you for joining us for the Remaking Industry Podcast. My name is Chris McNamara, editor in chief with Smart Industry. Today we're joined by Paul Sereiko, FieldComm Group, director of marketing.

Paul, thanks for joining us.

Paul Sereiko: You're very welcome. I'm happy to be here.

McNamara: Yeah. Real quickly, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do with FieldComm Group.

Sereiko: Well, you mentioned, my name is Paul Sereiko. I've been with FieldComm Group for about seven years now, and I'm responsible for marketing as well as product strategy. So, marketing encompasses both communications with our members as well as promotion and messaging to the outside world, the end user base, and then product strategy is largely involved with how we take the numerous technologies that we own and offer and productize them and offer them to our members in tools and test and registration services and things like that.

McNamara: Excellent. Now, the motto of FieldComm Group is connecting the world of process automation. Tell me a little bit about who and what is FieldComm Group.

Sereiko: Yeah, great. So, the name FieldComm Group has been around for about eight to 10 years now. And previously we were separate entities. One was the HART Communication Foundation and the other was the Fieldbus Foundation. And together, those two organizations were responsible for two of the leading communication protocol standards that are used in the process automation industry. Back in, I think it was 2005 maybe, or maybe a little bit later than that, the organizations merged together and became the FieldComm Group, and we've been operating under that moniker for the last 10 years or so.

McNamara: Okay. So let's talk process automation. This world is so rapidly changing. How is process automation changing in the past couple years and how do you see it changing in the coming couple years?

Sereiko: Well, it's really kind of interesting, and I think you know this as well as I do, and it's probably one of the reasons that Smart Industry is actually a title now and a great publication. Heretofore, the process was mostly focused on simply creating something, creating gasoline out of oil, or electricity out of coal and gas, or developing clean water, or making beer out of water and yeast and hops and whatever you use. But over the past 10 years, in fact, largely driven by some initiatives that started in Germany, the industry 4.0 initiative is one thing, and that has become encompassed by this digital transformation moniker. And the whole notion of digital transformation says that well, all of this information that is available on the field devices and in your process can be used outside of the process to optimize your plant and get more return out of your assets and do condition-based monitoring and all these various things.

But you need to be able to access that information. And so what's really changed in the last 10 years is this notion of taking the smart devices that are in your plant and have been in your plant and making that information accessible to really kind of create a smart industry, a smart process automation industry, if you will.

How do you like the way I worked that in?

McNamara: Pretty clever. I like it.

So, now we're kind of reaching a point, and it's a spectrum, but of programs validating themselves and scaling initial efforts and a mainstreaming of a lot of these tools, techniques and technologies here. Where do we go? What does the near future look like here?

Sereiko: Well, I think one of the things I've learned for better or worse in this industry is that things move slowly and we're still at the very infant stage of digitalization in a lot of the process automation sectors. I like to talk a lot about oil and gas because that happens to be one of the segments where many of our members have large businesses, and it takes a long time for those folks to adopt new technology. They have a very, very large installed base of instruments that support the HART communication protocol, which is one of the protocols that we manage and own. The effort entailed in just getting information out of those HART devices, which had been really difficult previously, is now getting a lot easier. So, we're starting to see some of our larger end users actually take much more advantage of the smart information in their HART devices than they had previously.

So, that's kind of the first step. Obviously then, there's when as you're putting in new builds and you're upgrading your existing infrastructure, you want to pay attention to making sure that you are adopting technologies that are built for the long haul. You know, you don't want to buy the version of the asset management system that was available 10 years ago. You want to buy the version that's available now that supports some of the new technologies and some of the new digitalization things that we've been working on at FieldComm Group and collaboration with others, obviously.

McNamara: Okay. Let's talk about one of those collaborations, FieldComm Group and OPC Foundation. Talk to me about that partnership and what's the goal? What's the point?

Sereiko: Yeah, we've worked with the OPC Foundation for a long time. The FDI technology that we own, field device integration technology, the FDI standard that we own, it's actually at its core are some device information models that we co-developed with the OPC Foundation, gosh, a long, long time ago, but more recently we've collaborated with them on really two specific initiatives. The first one is an initiative called PA-DIM. Now,  that stands for Process Automation Device Information Model, and so let's parse that a little bit. So, it's actually an information model. So, it's a way that information is structured and the type of information that's being structured is from devices, and it's from devices that are used in the process automation industry. So, we co-owned this standard. We created this standard initially with the OPC Foundation about five or so years ago, and it's really become quite favored by a lot of organizations in the industry.

And a couple months ago we announced that we've extended the ownership of that standard to numerous other organizations including Namur, ZVEI, VDMA, the ISA 100 Wireless initiative, ODVA and Profibus-Profinet International. It's a very well rounded standard that allows for an OPC UA server, in this case that server would be in an edge gateway or perhaps even in a field device to serve process automation device information model information up into an OPC UA enabled client that can read and structure and do analytics and monitoring, for example, on that information. So, that's the first initiative.

The second collaboration that we've entered into with the OPC Foundation is associated with their OPC UA FX initiative, which is the field level communication sector of the OPC Foundation and for that initiative, we both started thinking about what a next generation process automation system might look like in the future. And they started looking at it several years ago from a controller-to-controller standpoint. So, if your two controllers were communicating using OPC technology, what might be the standards and the profiles that you would need to create within the OPC modeling framework to instantiate that? At the same time, we were working within FieldComm Group on a device-to-controller standard for the same communication. So, if a device was native OPC UA and it was speaking with a controller that was native OPC UA, what would be the information model that would need to be created to implement the common use cases, et cetera.

So, it's a very long winded way of saying that we were both kind of working on the problem from a couple of different directions. And earlier this year, we announced that the FieldComm Group initiative would now become part of the OPC UA FLC organization, and the new instrumentation working group would be established within the OPC Foundation to continue and further this work.

So, these are both examples of how organizations in the industry that previously might have competed with each other are now starting to collaborate with one another simply because the complexity of the technology, both down at the field instrument level, as well as up at the systems level and the cloud level is getting so complicated that you just can't do everything on your own anymore.

McNamara: So, a way to mitigate some of that complexity. So, how does a collaboration like this benefit the end user? What efficiencies emerge with these two initiatives we just talked about here?

Sereiko: Well, one obvious efficiency at a very high level is you're not having to make a choice between competing standards. In an ideal world, there will always be many standards, there will always be many protocols, but at least by collaborating on some of these higher level architectures and higher level software systems, you're presenting the end user with a simpler decision to make. The other thing that we're doing that will also help the end users, and this is particularly true with PA-DIM, is we're trying to implement what we call protocol-agnostic communication models. So heretofore in a plant, you might have to know if your pressure transmitter or your Coriolis flowmeter was speaking HART or Foundation Fieldbus or Profinet or Ethernet IP.

With PA-DIM, if a device is enabled with PA-DIM, at the higher levels of the software systems, you don't really care what the protocol is. All that you really care about is the information that the device is presenting. How it's communicating that information to you is irrelevant, because think about it as an IT person who's trying to build an analytics platform or a monitoring platform, he doesn't care what the underlying communication protocol is, he just wants to know what the mass flow rate is and whether it's deviating from one unit to another and why it might be deviating.

McNamara: Yeah. Okay. So, we're talking about partnerships here. Talk to me about value and complications with multi-vendor interoperability of instrumentation devices like this. Are these emerging more frequently? Are challenges becoming less problematic? Talk to me about that.

Sereiko: Well, it's a really good question. I think that it, as the technologies grow and become more complex, obviously the registration and the certification and the testing associated with these products becomes commensurately more complicated, and thankfully, a big part of the FieldComm Group business' test and registration. So, we like to think that if a host system, an Emerson host system that supports FDI technology or an ABB asset management system that also supports FDI technology, if those are being used with instrumentation from any vendor that have gone through the test and registration process at FieldComm Group as have those host systems, you can pretty much be assured that you're going to have the multi-vendor interoperability that you need.

I think this is somewhat unique in the process automation industry and in the operations technology sector as opposed to the IT sector. In the IT sector, you're principally concerned about the transport of packets and that the packets are getting from one place to the other place and in the right place, in the right order. And in when you get into OT technology where we're dealing with a lot more what I call application layer stuff, maybe that's not the official formal name for it, but you're concerned about what the meaning of the data is and what the meaning of the information is. So,  it's not just that the data's getting there, it's the right data and it's being read correctly by both systems.

McNamara: Okay, interesting. We were just talking about field instrumentation, which is constantly evolving here. How is that influencing the larger process automation industry? How does that dictate changes in approaches there?

Sereiko: Oh man. This can be a book in itself. This is all about the IT/OT convergence discussion really, because previously all of the process was managed by the OT organization, and they were responsible for producing 85,000 gallons of beer a day or something, whatever you're making. And the IT organization really had no influence there. But what you're seeing now is the OT and the IT organizations kind of blending and you need to come up with common languages and common models for communication, like OPC UA as an example, which is used in both areas so that you can facilitate the transfer of data and the digitalization of data from those OT silos into the IT organizations, where much more complex analytics and machine learning algorithms and other monitoring applications and alarming and learning applications can be implemented than you can maybe in an OT environment. So, the bottom line is as the instrumentation has gotten more complex, as the barriers to moving data from one place to another have gotten less complex, it's kind of facilitating this whole new industry of advanced analytics and monitoring and optimization.

McNamara: So, when we're talking about advanced analytics, we're talking about mountains of data. That leads to this question about cloud computing capabilities. Let's switch gears here and talk about that topic there. Give me your take, private clouds versus public clouds. I know this is a discussion that is common in your world. What's your take there?

Sereiko: Yeah, there's private clouds and there's public clouds and there's which cloud, what cloud. I think there's kind of three areas. What we've seen in a lot of the industries that we serve, I keep going back to oil and gas, is that the folks in oil and gas industry, particularly the closer you get to upstream where you're doing drilling and exploration and things like that, the much less likely they are to want to have any of what they consider to be proprietary information, which is just about everything, they don't want to see any of that available in the public domain. So, we'll see large enterprises will be building their own cloud data centers. Now, who they use and what they use is up to them. Maybe they're using Microsoft Azure, maybe they're using AWS, maybe they're using some of the more sector focused cloud like Cumulocity from Software AG or something like that.

And so that's kind of the first point. I think the challenge for companies like us is to recognize that it's not one single cloud. The cloud itself is composed of many, many clouds. So, we have to define standards that will take that into account and not be tied up to any single platform. And I really don't see a lot of people that are interested, a lot of end users other than maybe smaller end users, that are interested in public cloud infrastructure. That changes when you get into really wide field SCADA applications where you're dealing or you're going across multiple states and long areas and stuff like that, where some of that information might be stored up in Azure. But ultimately, I think a lot of the private stuff is going to be hosted in some enterprise data centers somewhere.

McNamara: Okay. Last question for you. I want to go big picture here. We're talking standards. We're talking digitalization of these approaches here. What's the interplay there? How is Industry 4.0,  digitalization, how is that changing the creation and the adoption of standards and the implementation of standards and then those standards influencing larger business strategies? Do digital capabilities make standards adoption easier to implement? Does it complicate these efforts? Is it both? What's your take?

Sereiko: I want to go back to collaboration again, and I want to give kind of two examples of collaboration. The first one I've already highlighted, so I'm not going to go into it in detail, but it's the PA-DIM process automation device information standard, which was originally developed by OPC Foundation and FieldComm Group and is now owned by eight organizations. One of those organizations is an end user organization, it’s NAMUR. And heretofore, having an end user actually be engaged in the formal development of a standard is what's kind of unheard of. But that's happening now. And I think again, it speaks to the fact that they want to adopt something and they want to have a meaningful voice in what it is that's being built that they can adopt.

McNamara: For sure.

Sereiko: And then the other example of collaboration that I want to give that I didn't touch on previously is the whole collaboration around Ethernet-APL, which is a new two wire power-over-Ethernet standard that will someday represent a very, very large share of the physical layer that's used to connect instrumentation to systems. Previously, that type of work would've been done by an IEEE organization and an IET organization and vendors would've come together and made something. But in this instance, what happened is literally 12 industry partners, companies like Siemens and ABB and Rockwell and Schneider and Emerson and others, along with the four largest standards organizationsso the OPC Foundation, FieldComm  Group, ODVA and Profinet-Profibus Internationalwe all formed a joint organization to usher the IEEE physical layer that was being developed into a more well-defined physical layer that would be used, could be used in intrinsically safe applications and hazardous areas and things like that. And that is what is the Ethernet APL technology. So now,  you've got basically 16 organizations who've collaborated over the last three years to create a new physical layer that promises to be the physical layer of the future for process automation systems and instrumentation.

And that makes it that much easier for end users to make a decision to adopt the technology. We know we've got 16 organizations behind it, and guess what? It's Ethernet. So, I don't have to make a decision whether I'm having a HART network here and an FF network here and a Profinet network here. It's all Ethernet and you can run your automation protocol over it. So we're trying to make it easier for users and it is challenging cause it is challenging to do these collaborative organizations that there's a lot of sweat and effort that behind the scenes that goes into creating the entities that ultimately work together. But it's well worth it, and I think it's great for the end users in the long run.

McNamara: For sure. And if you don't make it for them to readily eagerly adopt it, it's a moot point anyways, right?

Sereiko: Yeah, Right. There's so many standards, but a lot of them aren't adopted.

McNamara: Excellent. Paul Sereiko with FieldComm Group, thanks for sharing your insights today on the Remaking Industry podcast, we're thrilled to talk to you. 

Sereiko: Excellent, thank you. 

McNamara: And to our listeners, as always, we remind you to go out and make it a smart day.

For more, tune into Control Amplified: The Process Automation Podcast.

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