Field Device Integration (FDI) The FDI Precursor – First Units Enter the World of field Device Integration

Author / Editor: Sabine Mühlenkamp / Dr. Jörg Kempf

After approval of the FDI specification the market waits for the corresponding products. ABB has risked coming out early and has presented the first version of the Field Information Manager (FIM) at the previous Achema trade show. The test laboratory of Bilfinger Maintenance is now gathering the initial experiences with that.

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(Picture: © freshidea - Fotolia)

The relief was clearly discernible, after the end of the development work for Field Device Integration = FDI was announced at Achema. At the same time, all the participants were also happy that it had actually been possible to link the best of text- (DD, EDDL, etc.) and graphic-based (FDT/DTM) device integration with each other. Now remains the major task of bringing the FDI technology into practice, and this means that the manufacturers must enter the market with the corresponding products. But, vendors are also prompted to integrate the technology in the systems as soon as possible.

ABB has brought the first FDI-Tool into the market in the form of the Field Information Manager (FIM). “The FIM tool generated an enormous amount of interest at Achema and is also downloaded a lot”, reports Marko Schlüter, Product Management Fieldbus at ABB. With the help of the tool, field devices can be connected, put into operation and configured many times faster.

Sven Seintsch of the test laboratory at Bilfinger Maintenance collected the initial practical experiences of that. His team had the tool under its wings for about four weeks before it was introduced into the market. While doing this, both simple measurement devices like pressure- and temperature sensors as well as flow meters were configured with the tool. The oldest devices were more than ten years old and the most recent were brand new.

“Really Plug & Play”

The initial result by Seintsch is exceptionally positive: “That was really Plug & Play. Only a few clicks are required to make the field device functional”. The mode of operation, according to what he states, cannot be compared with the earlier ones, as the search for the correct EDD or the correct DTM could last long. As many users have already experienced, the installation of these type of management tools, connection of devices and online access frequently lasts between 15 and 30 minutes. The FIM takes three minutes. “The tool finds the field device immediately and it can be processed immediately”, says Seintsch.

So far, FIM contains FDI Device Packages for ABB devices. Any desired Hart device’s EDD can be loaded into the tool. If a device-specific EDD or Device Package is not available for a special device, ABB provides a generic Hart Device Package that can do basic configuration of all Hart devices. The handling also convinced Seintsch, as the tool is very fast and the device can be set up in the shortest time.

Quick to Start

In this process, the user is not restricted to a desktop PC, server or laptop. FIM can be installed in a Windows tablet and supports the necessary touch navigation, so that the user has a lot of freedom while using the system. “The tool has a modern user interface, is tablet compatible and can be operated via a touchscreen”, confirms Seintsch. “You realise that the software developers could use new technologies”. The device menu simplifies access to the standard menu like Operate, Diagnostics and Device Settings as well as other device-specific menus. The FIM enables the user to, for example, switch between all the open device views. The user can also very easily switch from one device to another without having to keep returning to the overview.

Instead of having to search for the correct function in the context menu or the menu trees, the user can now do this intuitively with a finger motion. “Operation is simple and easy. That sets a standard in the market”, Seintsch is convinced, which also emphasizes the stability of the tool at the same time. “Earlier, it was quite often for such a tool to be suspended or for it to crash. But the FIM was stable the whole time and also functioned smoothly”.

What Is Still to Be Done?

Still, there are a couple of points to be resolved. “We were using the initial version of the tool. With that, one could only work online with the tool, so that a function of saving the parameter sets and printing omitted,” Seintsch mentions as future tasks. Settings for devices with Profibus PA- and FF connection are also absent. However, this is mainly because of the short development time. These functionalities will be integrated in one of the later versions.

The FIM is supplemented by new features and functions to the extent of the progress of the common FDI-Host components. The aim is to develop future versions into a complete Asset Management system including integration options in control systems and ERP systems. This shall also contain the FDI device model on the basis of OPC UA for the general access to device information.

Seintsch also feels that there is still work to be done in the certification of FDI packages. But this goes for all FDI components: “From the Namur point of view, there ought to be a certification of the FDI packages which is already planned, but should also be possible across the world”. Seintsch considers the development of FIM an important first step: “I can only encourage the users to try out the tool”, he concludes. “It is an asset because of its simplicity. Anyone can start easily with it. One mainly works actually with the field device and not with the tool anymore”.

However, Seintsch does not want to specify about a timely forecast, when FDI is no more spoken of because it has become a matter of course. “That depends on how quickly the manufacturers develop the FDI packages”. But: The tool was submitted to a maintenance technician at the same time as the tests in the test laboratory and that also gave promising feedback.