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Intrinsic Safety with Added Functionality

The range of intrinsically safe isolation amplifiers (signal conditioners) offered from 1997 onward marked the active entry point into the process industry. To start with, Phoenix Contact sourced the necessary electronics from a partner. In 1996 the company was probably ahead of its time with the “PI System.” But the first modular, pluggable interface for process engineering failed to make a market breakthrough. After pluggable devices, Phoenix Contact launched motherboard and DIN rail devices in 2000.

In 2002 finally, the company brought out its first in-house Ex i developments; by 2008 the Phoenix Contact developers had the full range of products for this sector completely under control. It was the year of the MACX analog signal conditioners with functional safety, one of the first Ex i developments compliant with IEC 61508 for SIL applications.

Of course, the company from Blomberg in Germany is by no means the only supplier. But its approach is unique. “We were not the first ones to launch an Ex i isolator with a component width of 12.5 mm on the market,” Bent admits, before then emphasizing: “But we were the first to offer a complete range and many detailed improvements. Just copying others was never an option when we developed the Ex-proof isolators.” The new generation created by Phoenix Contact had new functions and was narrower than the standard products on the market at the time.

Redundancy for High Plant Availability

At the latest after the launch of its “intrinsically safe” range, Phoenix Contact was well established as a partner for the process industry. The company demonstrated this again with its top hat rail-based redundant power supplies from early 2000.

It wasn’t a completely new invention. “But actually translating it into an integrated system approach that goes on the rail and can then be used easily in practice, that is something we can take credit for,” says Roland Bent.

Unique technologies were created in this context: from the SFB technology for tripping standard automatic circuit breakers to ACB technology (Auto Current Balancing) for uniform loading in redundancy operation and IQ technology, the intelligent system for detecting and charging different storage media in a UPS. Power supply, UPS and storage media have since been available as a modular building block for diverse applications.

For operators of chemical and petrochemical plants, to whom reliability is everything, this approach was highly welcome. Redundancy is a vital approach here for preventing plant shutdown and thus always has been — and still is — a priority. According to the Technical Director, Phoenix Contact has managed to translate such technologies into a higher level of utilization, driven not least by the requirements of its customers. Among other things, this means redundancy monitoring, clear messages and a long service life for the loads, power supply units and converters. The right solution is available for every application scenario — whether via power supply redundancy or by means of a completely redundant auxiliary power supply, if required also in a highly compact control cabinet.

Wirelessly into the New Millennium

At the start of the 2000s, Phoenix Contact also launched new wireless systems — although they failed to make much of an impression on the process industry to start with. In 2002, Trusted Wireless 1.0 — technology developed by a Canadian partner — was the first wireless system for secure transmission of process signals over large distances in the range of kilometers. The proprietary technology was superseded in 2012 by Trusted Wireless 2.0. Trusted Wireless technology is primarily suited to establishing large networks over long distance with medium data rates. It is supplemented with products based on the particularly energy-saving and reliable WirelessHART protocol for process field device networks for wireless sensor communication, which have been available from Phoenix Contact since 2010.

Many other robust, industry-suitable wireless products from Phoenix Contact are available to cover other requirements: for example WLAN for communication infrastructures with higher data rates. The first GSM modem from Phoenix Contact used the 2G network, and products for 3G and 4G followed. With its current product portfolio, Phoenix Contact covers everything from simple SMS messaging systems to high-speed applications all around the globe. As a member of the ZVEI 5G-ACIA initiative, the company is working on ways to ensure that new applications can be implemented with 5G communication. This should enable networking of thousands of sensors. In the future it will be possible to implement even time-critical applications with low latency.

“Our acquisition strategy is not directly driven by growth. Our priority is to add and expand from a technological point of view.” Roland Bent, CTO, Phoenix Contact
“Our acquisition strategy is not directly driven by growth. Our priority is to add and expand from a technological point of view.” Roland Bent, CTO, Phoenix Contact
(Source: Phoenix Contact)

The development of Interbus at the end of the 1980s already represented the first step into the world of automation technology. However, Phoenix Contact was unable to make a big splash in the process industry with the fieldbus system. It soon became clear that for the industry with explosion protection requirements in the field only Profibus PA and Foundation Fieldbus play a role in Zone 0. For decades the Blomberg-based company supplied the connections for PA devices. In the market for infrastructure products, a development team in Harrisburg/USA eventually started to develop modular field device couplers for Foundation Fieldbus and Profibus PA in close cooperation with end customers. By mid-2007, innovative four-channel modular fieldbus couplers were available.

The company remained faithful to the modular principle. This was followed at the Hannover Messe 2010 by a modular selection of device connections required for distribution boxes or field boxes. They allow intrinsically safe PA field devices to be mixed with non-intrinsically safe ones, separated by a separating plate. One special aspect here is the scalable approach, which enables demand-based installation. The block device couplers for Zone 2, which were introduced in 2013, also met with great acceptance — and that worldwide — as did the Zone 1 ISO variant and the DP/PA couplers in 2015.

To also make Ethernet suitable for industrial applications in the field, Phoenix Contact is currently driving the development of Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) standardization. For the process industry, but specifically for areas with explosion protection requirements, the company already presented its first prototype field switch for Advanced Physical Layer (APL) at Achema 2018.

Achema 2018 represented another milestone for Phoenix Contact, although the origins can undoubtedly be traced back to much earlier within the company. At the trade fair itself, though, something that must have obviously already occupied the industry specialists for the chemical and petrochemical industries for quite some time took center stage: a model of a large chemical plant with all its peripheral systems — complete with many different approaches and options for modernization, not least with the aid of digitalization.


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