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FieldComm Group’s standards, technologies produce protocol-independent data connectivity

Oct. 31, 2018
FieldComm Group is showing how it’s done in an interactive demonstration test bed using only FieldComm developer software, member components and a off-the-shelf HMI

After journeying through any epic trilogy, there’s always one obvious question—is there a happy ending? Well, if you just experienced the three prior articles in this year’s Control FieldComm Group supplement—advances in the physical layer, Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) and NAMUR’s quest for interoperability, and OPC-UA and FDI’s enabling software tools—you better believe there’s a happy ending!

Just like the U.S. Postal Service delivering presents, FieldComm Group’s standards and technologies are coalescing to produce protocol-independent data connectivity from legacy installed bases and APL on the physical plant floor, right on through standards-based FDI servers and software infrastructures, and up to cloud-computing services and all their data-hungry users and analytical tools.

“There will always be new protocols and physical layers to connect field devices to control and asset management systems,” says Paul Sereiko, marketing director at the FieldComm Group. “However, the discussion lately is all about moving data from the plant to the cloud and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), so we’re trying to promote a more standards-based approach.”

Developing the demo

In fact, beyond mere text, FieldComm Group is showing how it’s done in an interactive demonstration test bed that uses only FieldComm developer software, member components and a commercial off-the-shelf HMI presented at http://go.fieldcommgroup.org/cloud. The demo has a variety of features that visitors can explore.The demo’s primary parts consist of: 

  • Three existing field devices, which include a 4-20 mA HART 7 pressure transmitter, FOUNDATION Fieldbus transmitter and a WirelessHART temperature device.
  • Two types of software, including FieldComm Group FDI IDE and Reference Runtime Environment (Host) software, as well as Iconics Iot-Worx software. IotWorx is used to connect and display field device information via the Microsoft Azure cloud-computing service.
  • Two emerging devices, namely a native HARTIP prototype pressure transmitter and an APLenabled prototype temperature device, will be included in the demo before the end of 2018.

“We take the 4-20 mA HART transmitter, connect it to the HART-IP module, which encapsulates the plant-centric HART data in an IP package,” explains Sereiko. “Next, the information goes to the FDI server, which serves as a hub where all data can flow in and be made available for other apps to grab it. To access the Azure cloud, we use what is known as an edge gateway. We are using a Windows 10 gateway installed with Iconics’ IoTWorX OPC UA-enabled software. The gateway communicates with an FDI server that supports the Process Automation Device Information Model (PA-DIM). Then, the gateway receives data from the FDI server, and publishes it using the AMQP protocol to the Azure cloud. Once in Azure, field device information is viewable via web applications from any Internet-connected device. In the future, FieldComm Group members will be able to add components to the demo.”

An FDI server makes transmitter data available for apps, including an edge gateway to the Azure cloud, where it is viewable anywhere via the web. 

Data accessed, controls unaffected

Sean Vincent, director of technical services at FieldComm Group, adds that, “Data access is allowed in this situation because it’s standardized and uniform. The cloud often means different things to different providers and users, so we have standardized data access from the plant floor to the cloud, which enables people to understand it, perform metrics, and gain value from it using tools they already have and tools they can develop.

“We often hear that data is stranded and can’t be pulled in, but this is a channel for delivering device information that doesn’t affect the process control loop. As a result, users can interact and pull the data they need without slowing, bumping or jeopardizing the existing control system. This parallel access to field devices allows users to do data collection, modeling and analysis to find areas for improvement. In the cloud, you can apply software tools remotely. For instance, users can sit in their chairs, check available data for their plants worldwide, and quickly help individual units improve by what’s been learned by other units.”

Vincent adds that enabling corporate access to data without affecting control is accomplished with data diode functions performed by software. This is a very important feature as it protects process control security by removing the ability to remotely tamper with control. The demo also uses the publish-subscribe method, where the edge gateway subscribes to data published by the FDI server, and Azure subscribes to data published by the gateway.

“Just as APL deals with the physical layer, and FDI and OPC UA provide software in the middle, our demo shows how FieldComm Group standards and technologies can pull everything together to fulfill the openness and interoperability required by OPAF and NAMUR,” adds Sereiko. “We hear from end users that they’re not going to change out field devices just so they can use the latest software gadget. Most process devices are in place for more than a decade, and many users are still installing HART and FOUNDATION Fieldbus devices that will be in place 20 years from now. We’re building a 21st century technology using global standards that allows information anywhere for devices that have been in place for 20 years, as well as those that will be in place 20 years from now.” 

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