Easing access to field device data, now and in the future

Easing access to field device data, now and in the future

Ted Masters, CEO

Mechanisms for accessing asset health and maintenance management keep getting better, easing efforts to create insights using analytics.

By: Ted Masters, President and CEO, FieldComm Group

Over the years, I’ve traveled to countless manufacturing facilities and seen lots of interesting things posted on the walls of plant offices and shops. One memorable cartoon often appears in various versions showing a medieval general preparing for battle with sword and shield, talking to his lieutenant, saying, “I don’t care what he says he has. I’m not talking to any salesmen today.”

Off to the side sits the dejected salesman with a Browning .50 caliber M2 machine gun on a tripod. The moral is clear: Don’t close your mind to new technologies, because they might provide a major advantage. When it comes to stranded data, that’s the situation today in many process plants and facilities.

HART has long offered capabilities to deliver data to maintenance management, asset health management, and other systems, yet many reliability teams still do not take advantage of it. They think they’re stuck because their plant automation host system has “dumb” I/O, incapable of handling more than just a plain 4-20 mA analog loop. The value of using this data is the main topic of my column in the August 2022 issue of Control, titled Easing Access to Field Device Data, Now and in the Future:

Automation systems regularly use process data to monitor and control processes, but these systems often discard status and diagnostic data. By ignoring this supporting data, process plant personnel miss out on opportunities to optimize, simplify, and safeguard their plant operations. Intelligent plant analysis systems can ingest this data, enabling process plants and facilities to increase their ratio of proactive to reactive maintenance, thus reducing unplanned downtime and avoiding equipment and human safety hazards.

I’ve been delivering this message since my first day at FieldComm. Fortunately, the situation is improving as more facilities migrate from legacy systems and adopt HART’s capabilities. The technology is also evolving rapidly as advanced users keep asking for even greater capabilities, compatible with big data and its analytical tools. These advances make the limitations of dumb I/O environments less relevant because they provide mechanisms to work around these barriers. The earliest of those is WirelessHART, which has been around for years now, but there also three other exciting options in the works.

First, there is the process automation device integration model (PA-DIM), a vendor-independent information model with a structured hierarchy. It provides standardized data access for devices, with all parameters defined in IEC 61987 CDD with Semantic ID. PA-DIM enables like parameters to be compared regardless of protocols or supplier, and in machine-readable form for analytics.

Second, HART-IP is a 21st century evolution of the familiar HART protocol, operating on Ethernet. It features built-in cybersecurity to ensure credentials are in place, and it is designed to move large amounts of data quickly.

Third, Ethernet-APL combines the best of existing digital communication technologies, with consideration for specific industrial needs, such as two-wire installations, extended cable lengths, suitability for hazardous areas, and robust noise immunity. Ethernet-APL must be paired with communication protocols and information models to provide a complete solution. Possibilities include HART-IP and PA-DIM.

These technologies work together with new field devices capable of native support for direct cloud communications. Imagine the possibilities when plant personnel can add new instrumentation and measurement points that communicate directly with cloud-based analytics platforms.

You can see that nothing is standing still, and there’s no reason any more to go into battle with just a sword and shield.