Standardizing, simplifying device to host FDI integration

Companies should expect to start hearing a lot more about FDI in 2016, as products that support this new device integration standard come to market. Control Engineering Europe reports on FDI's journey so far.


Figure 1: FDI Packages include everything a host system needs for consistent device visualization and parameterization across platforms. Courtesy: Control Engineering EuropeAfter a four-year effort, on June 28, 2015, the FDI Cooperation LLC declared victory and elected to disband. Initially formed in 2011, the 40-person FDI Cooperation team, represented by technologists from major suppliers and field communication foundations, set out to resolve a host system integration problem said to have become a nightmare for device manufacturers, host system suppliers, and end users.

Victory in this case means three things: first, approval of the IEC 62769 standard, Field Device Integration (FDI); second, transfer of core tools and technology from the FDI Cooperation to the major process industry communication foundations who will, in turn, provide some or all of the training, product registration, maintenance, and enhancement services needed to assure a thriving eco-system of FDI approved devices, controllers, and host systems; and finally, the announcement by the recently formed FieldComm Group of the availability of new releases of the tools necessary for creating FDI registered systems and devices.

"The partnership worked very well because the activity was strongly supported by the process control industry," says Achim Laubenstein, manager of fieldbus standardization at ABB who previously served as FDI Cooperation's executive director and is now technology director at FieldComm Group. "The original complaint was users had many field devices with lots of data, but they couldn't use it because they had no single integration technology and lacked interoperability. That was the problem FDI Cooperation's members took up."

Historical overview

In the early 1990s the text-based Device Description Language (DDL) began to be used to author Device Descriptions (DDs) for many process-centric instruments. Initially the DDs simplified the integration of digital information gathered from the device to the control system. Over time, as multiple versions of DDL emerged, integration became more complex. Eventually, efforts to standardize DDLs began, ultimately resulting in the release, in 2006, of the EDDL specification as IEC 61804.

Meanwhile, in the late 1990s, principally driven by the more data intensive needs of ever more sophisticated devices, work on FDT/DTM technology also was underway. In 2005 the FDT group was founded to manage and evolve this technology. Unlike EDDL, FDT requires the writing of device-specific software applications and their integration into the host through standardized Microsoft Windows-based interfaces.

On the host system side of the equation Microsoft Windows-based operating systems (OS) became the norm, and so host systems became linked to Microsoft operating system software upgrades. Some host systems suppliers only supported FDT/DTM, others only supported EDDL, and few supported both. As new Microsoft Windows Service Packs and full version releases were made, each DTM needed to be re-verified with the new OS. Often, changes in a DTM were required to function in the new version of the OS.

The burden of integration of the device to the host system was spread across the value chain. Device suppliers needed to develop, test, and register a DD for each device. In addition, they were required to develop, test, and register a DTM across multiple versions of Microsoft Windows OSs for each instrument they manufactured.

Host system manufacturers had to choose between EDDL and FDT/DTM-based platforms and then needed to develop and support that platform. DTM testing and registration organizations were forced to upgrade test protocols to keep current with the latest version of the OS.

End users were faced with extremely challenging device integration burdens and the common problem of an EDD or DTM not being available for a specific instrument.

All of these factors contribute to inefficiency, cost increases, complexity, and a tendency to avoid system upgrades. As a result many host systems in brownfield installations are operating with software versions sometimes 10 years outdated. 

Enter FDI

"FDI improves interoperability between field devices and host systems through the use of FDI Packages," said Laubenstein. "FDI Packages include everything a host system needs for consistent device visualization and parameterization across platforms" (see Figure 1).

"The big advantage of FDI is it replaces various platform-dependent integration solutions and makes device packages interoperable with host systems because their device descriptions are harmonized across the communication protocols and host systems. This saves users a lot of time and effort and gives them access to device data they didn't have before, so they can create more value for their applications."

Figure 2: FDI improves interoperability between field devices and host systems through the use of FDI Packages. Courtesy: Control Engineering EuropeFDI combines EDDL and FDT/DTM technologies. Benefits of text-based EDDL are realized for set up and parameterization, and an optional software interface is available when needed. According to Martin Zielinski, director of HART and Fieldbus Technology at Emerson Process Management, "Text-based EDDL is used to set up our device to measure the physical properties of flow, pressure, and process temperature.

But to calculate mass flow, certain parameters from a database are required. With FDI we can add a software application that does this. FDI can do both text-based functions and then display calculated parameters like mass flow because it combines EDDL and the software application that is a derivative of FDT. This also allows FDI to perform complex diagnostics in a valve, such as a partial-stoke test."

Device vendors provide a device package for their devices, which is a virtual representation of the device and provides all information needed by a host system. By running the package, a host system provides all the device functionality to the user such as parameterization, diagnosis, and maintenance. A FDI Package allows added device data to be accessed through one integration technology. With FDI, the end users get access to their valuable device information. 

Adopting FDI

Simultaneous with the transition of the FDI Cooperation technology to the global foundations, ABB and CodeWrights announced the availability of the first FDI products. Most major suppliers are aware of and are planning development of FDI-supported products. Rapid and significant FDI market adoption requires initiative from all parties in the supply chain, including independent foundations such as FieldComm Group.

Device manufacturers need to train their staffs, create a roadmap for FDI for all instruments, and then develop and test.

Host system suppliers must incorporate the FDI common component architecture into their host system software. For some suppliers this is a straightforward task, for others it represents a significant development effort.

The FieldComm Group prepares qualification test suites, training materials for device suppliers, host system manufacturers, and end users.

And finally, end users need to upgrade their systems to support FDI. Similar to host system suppliers this could be a simple or arduous task based on the release level of the current control system.

When FDI works through the supply chain the benefits should be significant and include:

  • For a given device, one FDI device package with all configuration information, documentation, and display information that works with all host systems registered as FDI-compliant.
  • Minimal dependency on Microsoft versioning for those devices that require an optional software application.

For end users and suppliers, the benefit is clear. FDI standardizes integration of field devices through a future-proof technology that ensures unrestricted interoperability of device packages from a wide variety of device manufacturers with FDI compatible hosts from multiple control system suppliers.

FDI is a support technology that provides a means to easily integrate digital information into host systems. 

Get additional insights about FDI from automation vendors.

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