Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Training talk: Options for fieldbus education

January 25, 2006
By Ian Verhappen

With the focus on training this issue, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss some options for improving your skills in fieldbus. Many training opportunities are now available, including vendor seminars, industrial network sponsored events, formal training facilities, and in-house project-specific offerings.

Most manufacturers and sales representatives offer free seminars to make their clients more familiar with their technology or products. Some industrial network organizations also follow this model, presenting seminars in major centres to promote the advantages to using the protocol on future projects. The challenge here is presenting enough useful information within the time available, often as little as 60 minutes during a “lunch and learn,” where the sponsor provides lunch as an incentive for participation.

Once a company has decided that it is going to use a new technology for its next project, it then becomes imperative that the team members receive unbiased training, so that they can make the correct decisions at all stages of the project, minimizing the need for rework later. Fortunately, a number of facilities, such as technical colleges, provide this training. These facilities also provide systems from multiple vendors, so that companies can observe the pros and cons of each offering in a side-by-side comparison.

In the case of Foundation Fieldbus, the two regional training facilities of interest to Canadians are SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary, Alta., and Tri-State University for South Central Canada, offered in provinces that border the Great Lakes. These facilities also offer in-house training, which may be more economical than sending multiple individuals from a project team or facility to the institution for training.


There are also a number of companies and technical societies that offer training on industrial protocols, though their materials are not always vetted for accuracy or up-to-date with changing standards. Once the project team has selected the automation system that will be used, they will require training on that system. Most suppliers offer introductory training on all of the protocols supported by their equipment. Consultants who specialize in the protocols being considered will often offer customized training and support for the duration of the project.

There are a variety of training providers available in Canada. The challenge is identifying what training is required, and who will provide the best value for each dollar spent. Training decisions must always
balance the business needs of the company with the interests of those who will be trained. There is no point in training a person on a technique or technology that will not be applied in the near future. And the employee will only value the training if they can see how they will benefit from it.

If you have any suggestions for this column or topics you would like to see covered, please send me a note, either directly or care of the editor, and we will try to include it in the future as it fits with the editorial calendar.

Ian Verhappen is an ISA fellow and director of ICE-Pros, Inc., an independent instrument and control engineering consulting firm specializing in fieldbus, process analyzer sample systems and oil sands instrumentation and control. E-mail him at, or visit his website,

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