Automation September

Automation Insider: Get More From Intelligent Field Devices

EP Editorial Staff | September 18, 2013

garymintchellBy Gary Mintchell, Editorial Director

This month’s column is the third installment in a series on how modern digital technologies help maintenance and reliability professionals and plant management improve performance. (The previous installments discussed HART Communication protocol and FDT.)

Foundation Fieldbus was developed by the Fieldbus Foundation ( and contributing engineers from supplier and end-user companies. All devices connected to the network must contain the protocol and obey the electrical characteristics. The Foundation has developed compliance tests that suppliers must meet in order to market a Foundation device. This assures interoperability of devices from among many suppliers.

The key component of Foundation Fieldbus for practitioners is diagnostics. With those diagnostics, you can know much more about the status of devices in your plant than you do now. This means you can begin to plan maintenance based on actual data and knowledge—and also plan what to change out in a turnaround rather than waste time and money replacing valves and other equipment that are still good.

In the words of Endress+Hauser, a supplier of various process-automation components, “Foundation Fieldbus has a unique approach to management of device diagnostics. The publish/subscribe structure of Foundation Fieldbus means diagnostic information is available immediately to a wide range of workers in the plant. The challenge is to organize that data in a way that turns it into useful information for the right people at the right time. That’s why the Fieldbus Foundation created the Fieldbus Diagnostic Profile addition to our specification. This Profile incorporates the NAMUR NE 107 recommendations, which state the diagnostic data should be presented in a standard manner, with standard coloring and symbology.” 

Changing minds and work practices
According to Larry O’Brien, Marketing Director for the Foundation (and a former long-time analyst of the process industries for ARC Advisory group), “The original promise of having microprocessor-based devices was that they would transform the way we see the information related to these devices and the processes they control. Maintenance practices could be transformed so that devices with impending problems could be identified sooner. No longer would field technicians have to go to the device itself to get relevant information. The technology offers the promise of significantly lowering risk while lowering maintenance costs.”

Still, many plants don’t “get it.” Consequently, technology that’s often already installed at a site doesn’t yield promised benefits. Recognizing this problem and the need to address it, Foundation members initiated a standards committee through the International Society of Automation: ISA108.

As O’Brien put it, “This is not so much a technology issue as a people or work-process issue. Too many users are employing old maintenance work processes with new technology. It seems clear that the process industries would benefit from a standard set of work processes and best practices for intelligent device management. This would give end-users an effective blueprint for achieving the significant economic life-cycle benefits associated with intelligent devices.” 

From a personal perspective, I often saw this problem with automation I installed: People didn’t change to adopt the new technology and, thus, essentially wasted money. I hope this series has helped you see that technology exists to help you manage a plant more successfully—if only you will use it. MT

Gary Mintchell,, is Executive Director and Editorial Director of Applied Technology Publications. He also writes at





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