Learning from the Past to Improve the Future

Learning from the Past to Improve the Future

Ted Masters, CEO

Users need interoperability and cooperation among standards development organizations for architectures, networks, and protocols—and FieldComm Group is responding in kind.

By: Ted Masters, President and CEO, FieldComm Group

Process and instrumentation engineers and technicians who were working 25 to 30 years ago, likely remember the “fieldbus wars.” It was a time when there were many device-level networking protocols competing for use by process industry companies, with each vendor and technology organization advancing itself as the ultimate answer. I’ll avoid naming all the combatants in the war, but suffice it to say, many are likely forgotten.

Protocols tried to trade on their uniqueness, which was more of a problem than advantage. Instrumentation vendors found it difficult to keep up with all the options, leaving some customers that chose poorly with only a handful of supported devices. IEC created its IEC 61784/61158 standard, but it left far too many available options to be effective. The companies, vendors, and organizations recognized that this outcome really didn’t help anybody.

We’ve learned a lot since then, and I was thinking about those lessons while writing a column for the May/June 2022 issue of InTech: FieldComm, OPC UA Collaboration Benefits Users. I made a point that collaboration is taking place today among organizations in a variety of ways. As a case-in-point, consider the process automation device integration model (PA-DIM) and the field device integration (FDI) standards. The FieldComm Group and OPC Foundation have been working collaboratively on these, so when PA-DIM and FDI are used with OPC UA, they extend each other’s capabilities and provide a practical mechanism to bridge the OT/IT divide.

Moreover, FDI supports EtherNet/IP, ISA 100 Wireless, and Modbus TCP, serving as a means to link systems and networks that would have been isolated, even a few years ago. Remember that OPC originally has its roots back in 1996 during the fieldbus wars. Contrary to the divisive spirit of the time, it was first advanced as a mechanism to connect HMI/SCADA platforms with PLC-specific protocols that were not fully compatible. Today, this concept of connecting formerly incompatible things is part of standards development organizations’ activities, helping advanced digital transformation in process automation. As the column concludes:

“This type of collaboration and competition benefits end users, because no single architecture, network, or protocol standard is the best fit for every application. Users need a range of choices for the best price/performance ratio and ease of use. Collaboration among standards development organizations provides the required flexibility by supporting FDI across a wide range of architectures, networks, and protocols.”