By Gary Mintchell, Editorial Director
Last month, I went into detail about HART Communication technology and how the embedded diagnostics could help maintenance and reliability professionals do a better job—if only they knew about how to tap into this valuable resource. This month’s column explores a technology that works within asset-management and operations systems to provide users with all of the information that exists within each instrument: FDT Technology (www.fdtgroup.org). Short for “field device tool,” this technology can be used in existing or new facilities, and can drive significant operational and financial benefits across the entire plant life cycle.
An untapped resource
FDT technology is not new: It’s been available for several years in the majority of distributed control systems and smart field devices—often without being leveraged by the user. It provides a standardized communication interface between field devices and control or monitoring systems used to configure, operate, maintain and diagnose intelligent field instrumentation assets for both factory and process automation applications.
The key features of FDT are its independence from any communication protocol and the software environment of the host system. FDT Technology allows any FDT-enabled device to be accessed from any compliant host, using any field communication protocol.
The technology consists of two main components: the Frame and the DTM (device type manager). The frame is either an embedded component of the control system suite or a standalone application, whereas the DTM is a device-specific application that launches within the frame itself.
A software component specific to a device, the DTM contains application software that defines all parameters and capabilities included in that device (similar to a device driver for a printer). DTMs provide access and the graphical interfaces needed to easily configure simple and complex devices. They further aid users during commissioning of devices, preventing costly trips to the field and permitting maintenance of devices with sophisticated diagnostic tools.
A DTM is displayed or accessed from a Frame Application, which is a software window that provides the user interface between the device DTM and various applications such as device configuration tools, engineering work stations, operator consoles and asset-management tools.
The information sitting in intelligent field devices is most often stranded—only to be accessed during device configuration or troubleshooting. The full benefit of this information is only realized when devices are regularly scanned to verify the reliability of the process measurement, device health or potential process problems. Users around the world have discovered the significant benefits of improved asset management when they use FDT Technology to help manage their intelligent field assets.
Instead of routinely checking the health of devices manually, you can use FDT Technology to better manage your assets and increase workforce availability (i.e., let personnel focus on the “real” critical issues). Allowing FDT-enabled asset management to help identify and assist the user to effectively schedule appropriate work orders can increase reliability of assets while reducing labor and maintenance costs.
To date, benefits realized by users of FDT have included, among other things: faster device configuration and commissioning; reduced maintenance cost (via only repairing devices in need of repair); avoidance of unscheduled shutdowns; and reduced numbers of trips into the field—with the side benefit of improved safety.
For more information, go to my podcast interview with FDT Group Executive Director Glenn Schulz at themanufacturingconnection.com/2013/06/podcast-131-with-glenn-schulz-of-fdt-group-2/.MT