Future of fieldbus : two protocols head the race to standardsisation

Paul Boughton

Fieldbus is now widely accepted as a valuable communication method between industrial control systems and field instruments. It is rapidly becoming the method of choice for communication between process control systems and field instrumentation.

The standard is finding its greatest success in greenfield sites, particularly in developing countries where new large-scale processing projects are more common. Because these projects can specify and install Fieldbus systems from the start, they can take full advantage of the lower cabling requirements and number of connections that the technology needs, cutting commissioning time through the use of technicians familiar with the protocol and saving on capital expenditure (Capex).
Fieldbus operational expenditure (Opex) savings can also be derived from making best use of the increased maintenance and performance data that the protocol makes available (Fig.1).
But what are the prospects for the Fieldbus market and how is this valuable technology developing to meet users' needs?
A recent ARC report revealed that the Fieldbus market is narrowing to two primary choices, FOUNDATION Fieldbus -- H1/HSE and PROFIBUSDP/PROFIBUSPA, with both offering the same sort of scope for savings in Capex and Opex.
PROFIBUS finds its niche in industrial I/O applications, for which it was specifically designed. It uses familiar twisted pair field wires, supports multi-drop topology, can communicate with field devices from different manufacturers, and can use I/O function blocks in the field device. But can either of these two protocols, or some other, develop into the standard Fieldbus system?
There are hundreds of different Fieldbus protocols, both open standards such as PROFIBUS and proprietary protocols supported by a single manufacturer. Open standards have the major advantage that they are supported by a large number of distributed control systems (DCS) and PLCs, whereas proprietary systems are limited in the number of devices they can support.
The organisations behind the major open Fieldbuses such as PROFIBUS, InterBus-S and DeviceNet are in an era of consolidation, improving the system performance by occasionally adding new features.
The newer open Fieldbuses that have appeared lately are ControlNet, PROFIBUS-PA and FOUNDATION Fieldbus, although the creation of any more new Fieldbuses seems to have slowed.
Everyone is looking for a single common standard -- the International Electrotechnical Committee (IEC) tried to introduce one, but was unsuccessful.
Simpler protocols, such as ASI-BUS, will no doubt survive -- it is very suited to simple tasks such as switching and status information and there will always be a need for this type of functionality.
However, a lot of protocols will inevitably fade away because they are too specific and are supported by too few companies to produce the flexibility and economies of scale that users increasingly demand.
Both PROFIBUS and FOUNDATION Fieldbus have large installed bases so it is unlikely that either will disappear in the near future. A single standard is still no closer, although PROFIBUS is starting to adopt some of the features of FOUNDATION Fieldbus. Both will continue to develop and perhaps converge as they attempt to serve the same applications.

An added consideration in intrinsically safe applications is the number of Fieldbus devices allowed to be present. In these applications, devices and barriers are designed to eliminate the risk of any energy released by an electrical fault being sufficient to trigger ignition.
The type and number of Fieldbus devices permitted in an intrinsically safe area varies according to the type of hazardous atmosphere present and whether the user opts for the aentity' or Fieldbus intrinsically safe concept (FISCO) intrinsic safety models.
The entity model is based on the assumption that all equipment used in an intrinsically safe environment is individually approved for use in that environment, including the wire used to connect the devices. Although it is recognised worldwide, the model only permits a maximum dc electrical current of 83mA in the wire and a maximum of 18.4V per device.
In contrast, the FISCO model greatly simplifies installation of field-enabled devices in intrinsically safe environments. Proven by practical testing, FISCO enables a greater maximum dc electrical current (256mA gas group IIB), permitting more devices to be installed per segment.
Despite not being a worldwide standard, FISCO is steadily becoming accepted throughout Europe and is part of the FOUNDATION Fieldbus specification.
Potential users of Fieldbus are advised to select the most appropriate protocol for the application or the one supported by the host system of your choice -- ABB for example supports both PROFIBUS and FF directly.

System integration

The ability to integrate a Fieldbus with other systems is crucial when creating control applications and both FOUNDATION Fieldbus and PROFIBUS provide standard interface files and interoperability strategies to allow system integration. Yet, customers are looking to manufacturers for further testing, to give them confidence that the products offered will be truly compatible with the major protocols. ABB tests Fieldbus devices within its industrial IT systems (800xA) to provide additional confidence and reduce project testing time.
Both protocols have similar topologies, with a high speed backbone and links to the slower speed PA and H1 field segments. FOUNDATION Fieldbus switched its development of the H2 high speed bus to take advantage of high speed Ethernet, and FOUNDATION Fieldbus HSE now offers the most flexible solution for Fieldbus integration, with several options for redundancy.
PROFIBUS uses RS485 or fibre optic media for its high-speed bus, as this is a well understood technology. PROFIBUS has perhaps the weakest integration method as it allows for cyclical device access via the GSD file, adding a further level of complexity during commissioning. Device commissioning and parameterisation is also relatively poorly supported, often requiring multiple external software tools.
The open standard of field device tool (FDT) and device type manager (DTM) neatly solves this problem, providing total field device support from a single software tool. DTMs contain full information about the devices in the Fieldbus network.
This makes it easier to interrogate asmart' devices, which contain valuable status and performance information that cannot be accessed via an analogue link. A Fieldbus allows these variables to be retrieved, opening up a whole new world of possibilities for predictive maintenance, advanced diagnostics and asset optimisation.
FOUNDATION Fieldbus offers tighter integration via the DD/CFF/CFH files however this is not as powerful as the DTM for PROFIBUS. There is a team working on a FDT standard for FF and also to enhance the device descriptors (DD), a newer competitor to Device Type Managers. These enhancements provide graphical presentation of data, improved data organisation, and improved data storage.
The extensions enable device developers to organise the large number of parameters in complex devices logically and also allow the inclusion of images to help users configure the device. They will also allow greater compatibility between Fieldbus, HART and PROFIBUS.
Fieldbus systems produce OPEX savings by providing timely information about the status and maintenance condition of field devices. The DTM methodology offers information for device configuration and status in clear language -- this same level of information should be passed on with the device maintenance condition.
Asset monitoring itself tells the operator that a device requires attention -- the degree to which this becomes predictive depends on features in the device and the system.
Although this diagnostic/maintenance information is available the added value is decoding it and producing clear language instructions/guidelines to maximise asset availability and reduce non essential preventative maintenance.
HART devices offer a degree of maintenance information and also remote access for device configuration and support, similar to the Fieldbus protocols already discussed. In the case of HART, communication with the device is overlaid upon the 4--20mA analogue signal. It is slow, however access to device data is available with the correct tools and components.
The ability to pass HART information up to host systems is becoming more popular and asset monitoring applications can be used to maximise HART device availability to a similar degree to that of FOUNDATION Fieldbus and PROFIBUS devices. The use of HART DTM also provides total device support for all the available features.
The future of Fieldbus holds out the prospect of more low power devices, and devices that store their own documentation, making commissioning easier. Devices with more sophisticated algorithms and improved safety protocols are also on the horizon. Also, there is scope for devices to become more intelligent in the way they communicate maintenance messages (Fig.2). Another advantage would be more intelligent use of process information when reporting errors.
Wireless access is another prospect, allowing the use of handheld PDAs that would enable engineers to check the status of processes as they walk through the plant. Fibre optic communication would also be useful, preventing the interference with data that can be produced by radio frequency emissions.
The capabilities of FOUNDATION Fieldbus will see more and more devices using high speed Ethernet, as well as more sizeable projects using the protocol. Larger numbers of vendors will lead to greater confidence among users in designing bigger projects, knowing that they are not relying on one vendor to supply all the equipment.

Gareth Johnston is the Fieldbus Technology Specialist for ABB, tel+44(0)1480 475321, fax+44(0)1480 217948, email: gareth.johnston@gb.abb.com

Recent Issues