Happy Anniversary, Fieldbus Foundation!

Friday October 24, 2014
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.

The Fieldbus Foundation was formed in 1994 with the merger of WorldFIP North America and the ISP Foundation. Its first specifications were released in 1995, which started the now famous “fieldbus wars.” Canada’s Tony Capel was instrumental in negotiating the resolution of these “wars” in 1998 with the multi-part standard, which was originally eight parts and has since evolved to about 21 parts, including Ethernet versions of many protocols.

What is interesting is that part of the reason we had the “fieldbus wars” is that Electronic Device Description Language (EDDL) — or DD for short — is the basis for the HART protocol, which evolved to H1 and Profibus PA. Now the next evolution of EDDL is the merging again of these protocols under the auspices of FDI — Field Device Integration.

H1 adoption has come a long way since the first device with a single AI block was approved with the now famous “FF Check Mark” in 1997. Today, 577 unique products are certified using 150 H1 stacks and 900 different devices. There are now in excess of two million FF devices in service connected to approximately 20,000 host/DCS systems. Some of the other key dates over the past 20 years that affected FF technology include:
•    The High-Speed Ethernet (HSE) project that started in 1998 to port the functionality of FF to Ethernet was completed in 2000.
•    The End User Advisory Council (EUAC) was established in 2001 as a means for end-users to provide direct input to the FF board of directors on requirements to make FF more usable.
•    Standardized Transducer Blocks (TB) were approved in 2007 so that asset management tools would have consistent definition and, therefore, better integration into these tools.
•    Safety Instrumented Fieldbus (SIF), though not yet widely used, was completed in 2005 and demonstrated in 2008.
•    Physical device testing also started in 2007 so that FF cable, power supplies and device couplers provided a consistent minimal level of reliability and interoperability.
•    Host system registration started in 2009 so that both ends of the network would be tested against a defined set of minimum requirements for consistent interpretation and implementation from system to system.
•    The HSE RIO (Remote Input Output) project that started in 2007 formed the basis for the FF ROM (Remote Operations Management) initiative, which was demonstrated by Petrobras last year and incorporates the results of the joint development with ISA100 of the ISA100.15 wireless backhaul network.
•    During this whole time, the ITK (Interoperability Test Kit) — on which the FF Check Mark is based — has continued to evolve to reflect the changes in the underlying standards, and they are presently working on the ITK6.n version of this tool.

As you can see, the technology has not remained static, and the Fieldbus Foundation is continuing to focus on improved usability. The Gemstone initiative is taking a four-pronged approach to making FF easier to use. The four aspects of FF being addressed through the initiative are: backwards compatibility, device templates, automated device replacement, and PV interchangeability.

The most recent FF development is the evolution of the organization itself — the Fieldbus Foundation and HART Communications Foundation are in the process of merging. Though the new name for the organization is not yet announced, legal filings for the creation of a new not-for-profit entity took place in September 2014, and the offices — which are presently in the same industrial park in Austin, Texas — will be consolidated in early 2015.

The Foundation fieldbus and HART specifications will continue to exist individually, and each protocol will keep its own identity and intellectual property. The new organization will support the new FDI single source EDDL evolution and integration tools for HART and Foundation fieldbus technologies.


This column originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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