Nov. 24, 2014 - With all of the continuous improvements being made in process control and automation through more effective alarm management systems, better HMIs and improved control theory and algorithms, we often forget that a control system is only as good as the field measurements and final control elements used to monitor and control the process. Fortunately, the new HMI standards take this into consideration by providing suggestions on how equipment health can be incorporated into tag display information. Similarly, field device manufacturers have agreed on methods to communicate device status for both analog- and fieldbus-based systems.
Oct. 24, 2014 - The Fieldbus Foundation (FF) celebrated a significant milestone earlier this year — its 20th anniversary. In honour of this occasion, this month’s column will focus on how FF has evolved over the last two decades, and what’s in store for the future.
Sept. 29, 2014 - Every signal and network is going to have some noise, but good design practices can help minimize some of that “sound.”
Every industrial network has more than a single protocol within it. A simple analogy for a protocol is to think of it as a language. So if we are changing from one protocol to another, we are effectively translating between languages. And because of the complexity of today’s networks, you can almost guarantee that it will be necessary to translate protocols between different networks.
One of the reasons often cited for not using wireless networks, especially in an industrial setting, are the concerns related to security — or, more accurately, cybersecurity. Though it is true that a wireless signal propagates in many directions, this does not mean it is freely available to be compromised.
One of the best ways to save energy and minimize waste is to better manage your processes and know what is going on every step of the way. ISA is trying to help manufacturers do this, with three standards committees that are focused on developing documents to improve the way we work with our control systems and their human machine interfaces (HMIs).
The present version of the IEC 61158 standard includes 19 different protocols. However, while at an ISA meeting recently, I was approached by a Japanese organization about the addition of another, so I believe we will soon be up to 21 protocols in a single standard — and this is only for industrial processes.
One important part of machine safety is the associated electrical approval for installation in operating environments. A new standard from IEC — IEC 61010-2-201, “Safety requirements for electrical equipment for measurement, control and laboratory use” — will impact the way these approvals are made and, therefore, is something that is likely to affect the way you specify and purchase control equipment.
Is “Configurable I/O” making fieldbus technology obsolete/redundant? My definition of Configurable I/O is a termination assembly that has sufficient flexibility so that the individual signal termination (typically the pair of wires connected to the field device) is independent of the I/O card residing in the backplane.
I am still waiting to see the ‘killer application’ for wireless sensors, though some of the work being done in the areas of RFID and passive wireless sensors is likely to drive this breakthrough. Many of today’s applications are simply using wireless networks to replace wires, without thinking, “what else can I do without my tether?” The presenters and participants at the third annual Passive Wireless Sensor Workshop sponsored by the ISA Communications Division in May 2013 are working on that question.
Though only mentioned in my last column, the Field Device Initiative (FDI) is continuing to move forward. The reason this is important is because I estimate that 95 per cent of the field devices used in the process industry are based on DD technology. HART, Profibus and Foundation Fieldbus are all based on DD technology and these groups are working with FDT and OPC to have the resulting documents out for IEC ballot as Committee Draft for Vote with the expectation for publication early next year, with products released at approximately the same time. As always, one challenge of releasing products is coordinating the timing of field devices and host systems to support the new capabilities. It is this factor that will drive the timing for use of FDI in the plant environment. Let’s have a look at what has led to the development of EDDL and just how FDI will change the way we interact with our field devices. As a declarative language, EDDL describes the capabilities of the field device, leaving it to the host system to determine how to access all data and properties of all devices. As a result, EDDL tends to be used for device configuration with limited graphical support conducive to maintenance activities. Hence, the FDT organization developed DTMs. FDT is independent from any communication protocol and the software environment of the host system. A device DTM can be used to access device parameters, configure and operate the device and diagnose problems. A second DTM, called a Gateway or CommunicationsDTM, is used to connect to the device DTM and handle protocol transformation. A key group in the development of FDT and recent additions to EDDL technology is the NAMUR organization of end user manufacturers. The recommendations in its document NE105, “Specifications for integrating fieldbus devices in engineering tools for field devices,” was one of the guiding documents identifying the requirements for FDI. So what is FDI, beyond another acronym to learn? The core of FDI technology is the scalable FDI package containing up to four different elements. The FDI package is a collection of files: The Electronic Device Description (EDD), based onElectronic Device Description Language (EDDL, IEC 61804-3), includes the device definition (Def) that serves as the information model of the device and describes the device data and type; business logic (BL) outlines the rules for accessing the device data and any dependencies and is used to define if and how the data may be viewed when interpreted by the server; and user interface description (UID). The optional user interface plugin (UIP) offers the advantages of freely programmable user interfaces based on Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) used by FDT as software components that define special device functions/application information and user interfaces to run on the client. Attachments are also optional and include things like product manuals, images and electronic certifications. To prevent inadvertent errors, a number of safeguards are built into the protocol so that if there are EDD constructs (including built-in functions) that are not known to the FDI Server, the execution of the business logic shall be cancelled and if the FDI client’s UID Interpreter is not able to interpret and/or visualize a part of the UID, the user shall be informed that the resulting information is likely invalid. The device manufacturers define via the FDI Device Package which data, functions and user interfaces are stored on the FDI Server. This makes version management of FDI packages much easier as they are managed centrally within the FDI Server. Device packages created by device manufacturers will be certified and registered by their respective technology foundation, so it will still be best to verify the device package you are using on the relevant technology foundation approved lists on their website. Because the EDD, DTM and new FDI Package exist only on the computer, not in the device, it is possible to migrate from DTM or EDD to FDI without changing the devices, thus protecting the existing investment of your field devices. However, one of the requirements of FDI is that the major revision of all clients, servers and packages in a given system shall be the same. FDI servers support all FDI packages following the same version or lower. FDI clients can typically be connected to FDI servers that are implemented following the same FDI technology version or higher. An FDI client may access multiple devices, while User Interface Descriptions and User Interface Plug-ins may only access a single device. FDI clients can communicate with the FDI server through proprietary protocols; however, if the FDI server supports third-party FDI clients, it shall support OPC UA as well so that generic OPC UA clients with no knowledge of FDI can connect to the FDI server. The comprehensive set of services provided by OPC UA enables the “how” of system integration while the basic building blocks of the “what” of system integration are defined by OPC UA’s an extensible object model. OPC UA services act on an object model, which is managed by the server and discoverable by a client. Information is conveyed using standard and vendor-defined data types, and servers define object models that clients can dynamically discover. Though an FDI communication server can be embedded within a communication device or can be provided via a separate server, the FDI server is usually distinct from the servers that provide run-time data to the operator, engineering and maintenance stations. Though it appears that FDI will be more complicated than the EDDL we are using now, a lot of effort is being made to hide this complexity from the end user by providing an integrated graphical environment in which it will no longer be necessary to become protocol experts to keep your devices working and THAT is always a good thing—and a definite upgrade from today. This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
The industrial networking environment is continuing to evolve with additions to protocols, new tools and, with the Field Device Initiative (FDI), even amalgamation to some extent. However all the ‘buzz’ continues to be about wireless and cybersecurity, which is relevant regardless of the network you are operating. Many of us forget that cybersecurity is about more than the network but starts with policy, procedures and physical access. With wireless, physical access includes managing your wireless footprint. This includes such things as the power levels of your transmitters and gateways as well as, if used, the associated antennas. There are a number of open source tools to help you manage the footprint of your wireless network including: • Netstumbler (, one of the original wireless network tools that was often used by hackers to find networks while roving.•  Netsurveyor (, which is similar to Netstumbler but also has a recording/playback feature and comes with ‘add ins’ such as NetStress, which is a comparison tool to see how your network is doing over time.•  CommView for WiFi, which allows you to capture packets and then search them for specific strings and packet types. This is the wireless version of Wireshark ( for wired networks which, rather than gathering data on the network layer, allows you to diagnose problems in other layers as well.• inSSIDer from Metageek (, which is similar to Net Stumbler and is designed to detect wireless networks and report on their type, maximum transfer rate and channel usage. InSSIDer includes graphical representation of each wireless network’s amplitude and channel usage• Azulstar developed Wireless Wizard ( to provide a series of diagnostic tests to see how well your wireless network is performing. More commonly used on ‘the home front,’ it also includes a spectrum analyzer that recommends the best wireless channel to use. Staying with the “Open Source” concept, there is also an “Open source” antenna, or cantenna as it is affectionately known, with instructions available from a number of web sites. The cantenna was the created in July 2001 from an empty Pringles chips can and hence the name. The cantenna is a directional 2.4 Ghz wireless network 12dB yagi antenna, with a collector rod assembly, compatible with 802.11b and 802.11g wireless networks. Open source is also coming to our assistance on the cybersecurity side with a test suite from the Open Information Security Foundation (OISF). OISF has created an Open Source Intrusion Detection and Prevention Engine called Suricata. The United States Department of Homeland Security’s Directorate funds Suricata for its Science and Technology HOST (Homeland Open Security Technology) program, the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) and other consortium members. The Suricata Engine and the HTP Library, an HTTP normalizer and parser written by Ivan Ristic of Mod Security are available to use under GNU General Public License (GNU GPL) version 2. The HTP library is required by the engine integrates and provides very advanced processing of HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol – the same protocol used to read/display web pages) streams for Suricata. Suricata is available for download at One more tool to help you manage your network is Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT) ( which is designed to quickly and easily identify a specific set of conditions that are known to impact network performance. NDT does this by performing the following tasks: simple bi-directional test to gather E2E (End To End) data; gather multiple data variables from the server; compare measured performance to analytical values; and then translate network values into plain text messages for interpretation by yourself or your network administrator. This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
All of us are aware of the amount of data available from modern control systems, their field devices and the algorithms used to infer additional information from that data. The challenge is managing and understanding that data by converting it first into information that we as humans can understand, and then into knowledge upon which we can take appropriate actions.
As a chemical engineer who graduated 30 years ago, I know that other than the basic skills I learned at university (which formed the platform on which I was able to develop a career) much of what I do today was learned post graduation. Fortunately, the basic theories of physics, chemistry, etc., do not change and that forms the foundation, just like our education prior to entering post secondary studies forms the foundation on which our fields of specialization reside—it’s one big pyramid. This pyramid is why we need to develop the next generation of technical folks today. If we don’t, not only will we not be able to retire, but our country’s economy will also pay the price. But the time to get young people interested is NOT when they are about to graduate. Instead, we must reach them between grade 7 and grade 9, because that is when they will have a reason to do well in the core subjects necessary to become the next generation of technologists.One way that we can all help is to become involved locally by mentoring young people and showing them that, despite being engineers, we are “real people.” Some obvious examples of good fits are FIRST ( and the better-known Lego League (with whom ISA has created a partnership), coaching a local sports team, mentoring, or any other way of interacting with young people so they can ask, “What do you do?”Once someone has an interest in joining our exciting field of work, there are many opportunities for post-secondary development. In addition, we are fortunate to have an effective apprenticeship program here in Canada. However, as stated at the start of this column, once we have our degree is when we really start our education—learning not only ‘hard’ technical skills but also the important ‘soft’ people skills.A common way of learning new skills, other than reading appropriate journals, is to participate in technical society meetings such as IEEE, ISA, PMM, etc. This is how I continued to develop my skills for much of my career and the following story pretty well summarizes the result.When I entered the process analyzer business in the late ‘80s and went to ISA Analysis Division meetings, I was the “young guy” (only being in my early 30s). Everyone else was 20 years my senior, so they were happy to see someone behind them preparing to pick up the baton. Now I am the person looking behind me for someone to pick up my baton when I am ready to slow down and it does not look promising.Another way to not only stay on top of developing technology but also to influence it is by participating in standards development activities. Here in Canada, doing so is free and can typically be done through the appropriate sponsoring Standards Developing Organization (SDO) such as CSA, ISA, IEEE, or directly through the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). If you are interested in learning how to participate in SCC or ISA, where I am active, please contact me directly and we will get you started. One of the conditions of becoming an ANSI accredited SDO is that membership must NOT be a prerequisite to participation so you can join any ISA or IEEE standards committee without having to pay annual dues.Automation is unique in that there are few universities around the world that truly teach automation. Many teach process control, but that is not the same as the learning about the devices that actually connect to the process—all the more reason that we need to mentor new graduates and stay current ourselves.Just like the technology on which we rely as automation professionals continues to evolve, so too must we continue to grow and develop our skills to not only remain relevant to our employers but also to remain competitive ourselves. Investing in yourself will always provide returns in self satisfaction. This article originally appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
IEC TC65 and its subcommittees are responsible for preparing “international standards for systems and elements used for industrial-process measurement and control concerning continuous and batch processes.”There are four subcommittees within TC 65: SC65A, dealing predominantly with safety-related items; SC65B, covering instrumentation and analyzers; SC65C, looking at communications and networks including industrial wireless; and SC65E, examining the specification of digital representation of devices. There are also a number of Working Groups responsible for such items as cybersecurity and Joint Working Groups that cooperate between different IEC and ISO committees.The IEC “65” committees met the week before and after ISA Automation Week in Orlando to continue their work and have a plenary meeting. This plenary meeting is held every 18 months where the various oversight boards of “65” meet to review the status of existing and planned work items or standards. Canada is represented at the IEC by our mirror committees operated through the Standards Council of Canada. Here are some of the highlights from these meetings that could have an impact on you and your work as a Canadian engineer.In SC65A, the Maintenance Team (MT) for IEC/ISO 61508 parts 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 reported that an enhanced (or augmented) version of IEC/ISO 61508 with mark-ups and hyperlinks that provides additional text to support the implementation of the existing IEC/ISO 61508 is available for sale from the IEC website.As the current IEC/ISO 61508 standard does not address human factor issues, the ad-hoc group on human factors and functional safety recommends the establishment of a working group to add the required material, and they have identified an existing U.K. document as a good starting source for this information. With the increasing use of smart transmitters, SC65B will be revising IEC 60770-3 “Methods for performance evaluation of intelligent transmitters,” which is starting its regular maintenance cycle to reflect these changes. The committee is working with European End User Groups CLUI and EXERA who are providing input to the proposed changes.Similarly, IEC 62828, “Requirements and tests for industrial measurement transmitters,” is to be updated to incorporate digital capabilities of modern transmitters and will be created as a new series of documents for pneumatic, analogue, digital, etc. Lastly, France is preparing a potential proposal submittal of a “Software for standard application” work item.IEC 62603, “Industrial process control systems - Guidelines for evaluating the performance of process control systems,” will be released as a technical report for this revision, with plans to move to a full specification in three years. The analyzer side of SC65B is working on the following document of interest to all of us because it could affect our pocketbooks: IEC 62723 Ed 1.0 “Sampling and conditioning natural gas for custody transfer analysis.” This could have an impact on the international standard for how samples are to be made for payment of natural gas which is measured in volume but paid for in energy units based on the sample analysis.Series of standards on analyzer houses are in development that will improve the reliability of analyzer sample systems. As Canada has a number of experts in this area we should contribute to these documents which at present are being driven by NAMUR from Germany.SC65C, which includes the wireless standards where ISA100.11a is presently in ballot with a planned draft standard release in Q1 2013, also reported on the status of the 52 documents they oversee including 25 fieldbus documents, 27 Ethernet documents and nine fieldbus safety profiles.The final group, SC65E, is home to the various ‘languages’ and protocols for device communication and FDI (Field Device Interface), and will issue a draft ballot in March 2013 and five related new work proposals for H1, HSE, Profibus, Profinet and HART protocols. In addition, IEC 61804-1 will be withdrawn by January.The largest work piece underway within SC65E JWG 17, Lists of Properties (LOP) for automated valves and process regulators (SC65B/WG9 and SC65E/WG2), is generating Operating Lists of Properties (OLOP) and Device Lists of Properties (DLOP) for automated industrial valves (including control valves and process regulators) and their components as well as the characterization for this device family. When implemented, this will have significant impact on the way we work because the List Of Properties standards are defining all the parameters associated with the life cycle of a field device in a database format which will replace data sheets and allow for the ordering, repair and disposition of any field device within this single environment.A relatively new IECEE CB-scheme creates an Industrial Automation (INDAT) category that means industrial automation equipment certified by an IEC-subscribing nation can be accepted worldwide. It is therefore important that with a U.S. approval agency participating and supporting the resulting standards, Canada must participate in the development of IEC 61010-2-201 which is the first document to use INDAT on electrical safety of industrial control equipment. Many of us take standards for granted, however, as we all know, they do have a significant impact on our lives and work. Therefore, if you feel that you have some expertise in the area of automation and control and an interest in participating in the IEC standards activity on behalf of Canada, please let me know and I will be sure to forward your information on to the SCC and the appropriate committee. This article originally appeared in the November/December issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
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