Power to the process

June 21, 2012
Why a standard is needed for work processes related to intelligent device management.

In brief:

  • In many cases, the promise of intelligent field devices in the plant remains unrealized.
  • The argument for using intelligent device management has a strong economic value proposition.
  • Too often, the question of how to take advantage of device diagnostics comes too late in the project.

Intelligent field devices, whether they are based on Foundation Fieldbus, Profibus PA, HART, or other protocols, are pervasive in modern process manufacturing. The original promise of having microprocessor-based devices was that they would transform the way we see the information related to these devices and to the processes they control. Maintenance practices could be transformed so that devices with impending problems could be identified sooner. No longer would field technicians have to go to the device itself to get relevant information. Instead, information would be provided directly to the process automation system, plant asset management system, or indeed any other systems or software in the plant that required it. The technology offers the promise of significantly lowering risk while lowering maintenance costs.

In many cases, the promise of intelligent field devices in the plant remains unrealized. This is not so much a technology issue as a people or work process issue. Too many users are employing old maintenance work processes with new technology. The new devices and applications are installed, but the operators and technicians stick to their old way of doing things, their old preventive or routine maintenance practices, and never really take advantage of the huge amount of information that is available to them. It seems clear that the process industries would benefit from a standard set of work processes and best practices for intelligent device management (IDM). This would give end users an effective blueprint for achieving the significant economic lifecycle benefits associated with intelligent devices.

Current status

Changing roles

The large amount of information coming from intelligent devices also blurs traditional worker roles in process plants. In the case of Foundation Fieldbus, for example, we have noticed the blurring lines between the maintenance technician and the operator. Operators can detect a problem with a device before the maintenance people do, so again the problem of who does what and when becomes apparent.

It’s a worthy exercise to think about how roles in the plant are changing by creating real-life scenarios of different people in the plant or project workflow. Let’s say that Chuck is a reliability engineer at a refinery. He spent his career as an I&C specialist and his focus is instrumentation. Stationed at a brownfield site, he has a smattering of smart positioners and other smart instruments and a few software tools. The site’s legacy DCS doesn’t have any capability for digital integration with current devices, and the infrastructure for viewing diagnostics is a hodgepodge. There’s no clear basis for making systems-level decisions to expand or intelligent device management, so, when new projects or DCS revamps go in, it’s not a priority and the easy or low-cost path is chosen. Chuck would like to develop people who can focus on preventive and predictive diagnostics, but the site has a firefighting mentality when it comes to instrumentation. The added leverage and insights from a standard would clarify a way forward and allow him to sell process and commercial stakeholders on the value proposition of improved risk management, as well as build an organization focused on delivering increased process availability.

Donald is the controls leader in the capital projects group of a major chemical company. They are expanding and building new plants at a pace that is straining his staff, and finding qualified new hires willing to travel has been difficult. He’s convinced there’s innate value in device diagnostics and the fieldbus infrastructure, but he has difficulty getting his EPC counterparts to embrace them as strategic. His fieldbus jobs have been successful, but the sites haven’t done much with it or have failed to document any saves they could attribute to the technology. On each new job, he gets a project team of fieldbus novices, and the last large job reverted to conventional because there was no clear vision to override local uncertainty and apathy. A consensus standard helps him by providing the framework for defining the intrinsic value of diagnostics.

Gurdeep is a trainer at a technical college that, until recently, had been dreaming up best practices and presenting these to the various participants attending his seminars. Gurdeep has spent years learning about fieldbus technology but has limited field experience to prop up his so-called best practice ideas. Gurdeep is very skilled at convincing his audience that fieldbus is the right technology to install, but when it comes to advising on how to deploy IDM, he can’t help but change the subject due to his lack of experience. Having a standard that defines IDM and best practices for its deployment and usage will supplement Gurdeep’s curriculum very well and motivate his learners to include IDM in the design phases of their next project.

Julie is a consultant that has been involved in many capital projects that have chosen smart instrumentation as the baseline technology for most of the regulatory control and process shutdown applications. Julie has observed over the past decade that project managers seem to only have one milestone in mind, and that is the successful startup of the facility. And that’s the achievement upon which they are evaluated and compensated. Julie has further recognized that unless an IDM application is used as part of the commissioning tool set, it inadvertently gets pushed to the back burner, and it then becomes viewed by management as superfluous to the project deliverables. “We didn’t use it during startup, so what makes us think we need it now?”

Once this unfortunate judgment is rendered, it later becomes the responsibility of the maintenance department to resurrect the IDM as a stand-alone, in-house project. Julie says, “Good luck finding an AFE to charge it to at that point; and good luck finding a team to help implement the grand plan of data integration at the enterprise levels of your organization.” In other words, you’ve lost the plot.

The process industries are notoriously conservative and reluctant to change. In many cases, this reluctance is justified. The processes under control are volatile and dangerous, and any misjudgment can result in serious consequences. If you look around today, however, you will see that the process industries have enthusiastically adopted intelligent devices and IDM applications. Purely analog 4-20 mA field devices are being sold less and less. Why then have we not embraced this technology to its full potential?

Current work processes and current standards for maintenance management are built around time honored traditions including run to failure and periodic inspection and testing programs. These work processes were developed for equipment that doesn’t have built-in diagnostics. Pressure vessels and piping can be expected to fail very slowly over decades if operated within their design limits. Inspect and test programs are good work processes for such equipment, especially if they are optimized by risk-based techniques.

Instruments can also be pressure-retaining devices, but their primary purpose is for measurement and control. The measurement and control functions are in direct contact with the process and therefore subject to wear and tear that can degrade very quickly or suddenly compared to typical pressure retaining equipment. Furthermore, microprocessors embedded in these devices can do diagnostic work to identify when components are malfunctioning or degrading. In many cases, testing is unnecessary for these devices, and inspection can be simplified. Instead of test procedures, all that is needed are tools and processes that utilize the built-in diagnostics.

In the real world, however, we are finding that these tools and processes are often implemented incorrectly, and many times not at all. New technologies require new ways of doing things. Look at cars today for example. Any new vehicle sold today is going to contain a sophisticated onboard diagnostic computer that will be able to tell you what’s wrong with your vehicle based on specific diagnostic codes. Mechanics no longer use trial and error to diagnose problems. Just plug in the diagnostics unit and you can find out what the problem is. But this didn’t happen overnight. Mechanics had to be trained in the new way of doing things. New processes were instituted and taught at trade schools.

Better availability, reduced costs

The argument for using intelligent device management has a strong economic value proposition. It’s not just technology for technology’s sake. Detecting problems before they happen reduces unplanned shutdowns. Some in the industry call this a “save.” Depending on the application, one save can pay for your entire automation investment. The potential to cut maintenance costs is also significant. Intelligent devices allow you to implement a more predictive and proactive maintenance strategy.

In addition to saves, routine maintenance tasks can be eliminated because you no longer have to guess if there is a problem with a device. Many maintenance activities for instrumentation result in “no problem found.” These activities traditionally require personnel to enter hazardous areas, climb to areas with poor access, and spend time on unnecessary tests. Diagnostics can confirm proper operation without all of this expense and risk and can lead to a quicker resolution of operational issues.

Complex landscape

Perhaps using the analogy of the automobile is a little too simplistic for the process industries. In today’s process plants, operators, engineers and technicians must navigate an already complex landscape of applications and communication pathways that can often make the problem of using diagnostic data from intelligent devices a herculean task. Multiple databases and interfaces permeate the industry. Digital field devices must interface with a host system, which in turn communicates with a data historian, configuration database, alarm management systems, plant asset management systems, and higher-level computerized maintenance management systems. Enterprise connectivity is a must, since work orders are typically generated through systems like Maximo or SAP. Many users get stymied when it comes to integrating all these disparate elements together. Questions like who gets access to information from intelligent devices and when must be answered, and corresponding data flows must be planned. Workers at multiple levels in the enterprise (in multiple disciplines) must be informed, and coordinating communication between these workers creates a problem in itself.


The workforce challenge

Anyone in the process industries is aware of the fact that we face a shortfall of workers in just about all roles of the plant. New workers will have to do a lot more with fewer human resources, but a greater range of tools provided by technology. The full realization of the value proposition of new technologies like fieldbus and IDM is often the victim of generations of workers raised in 4-20 mA technology. It can be difficult to change multiple generations of an industry that is steeped in certain practices. In many cases, upper level management does not deem it necessary to invest in the proper level of training needed to fully utilize the technology.


In many ways, end user companies and owner operators want it both ways. They want to adopt new technologies and be considered world-class manufacturers, but they don’t want to invest in the training and time it takes to use those technologies effectively. There are exceptions to this rule. Leading-edge end-user companies exist in this industry and are setting examples. Training doesn’t have to be a big investment either. The Fieldbus Foundation has certified training partners that are audited and reviewed, with course programs lasting anywhere from five to 10 days. Suppliers are offering more remote training options that are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

Regardless of their current levels of sophistication, end users will be faced with a new generation of workers that have been raised in digital technology. These are workers that have never known a world without Internet. They are familiar and comfortable with digital networks. They will be able to use a wide range of more sophisticated software tools.

Digital instrumentation in new plants

Get involved
Volunteers are needed to participate in the standards team. If you’re interested, contact Larry O’Brien at [email protected]. The goal is to submit the standards proposal to ISA by the end of the second quarter 2012. Since this is a standard that is desperately needed by the entire industry and there’s no conflict regarding competing technologies, the standards effort is expected to move forward in a productive and timely fashion.

Too often, the question of how to take advantage of device diagnostics comes too late in the project. In a new plant, IDM considerations should be addressed in the front end engineering and design (FEED) phase to be truly successful. End users frequently focus on reducing startup time, which, while important, also must be balanced with an eye toward operational readiness. People must be trained. If your project is ready but your people aren’t, this will be a serious problem that will prevent you from realizing the economic benefit of your technology investment. The most successful projects also must have buy-in from people at all levels of the organization that will be using it. Perhaps most importantly this includes field and maintenance personnel. With new projects, it’s in many ways easier to implement new work processes, as long as you start with properly trained people.

Even more important than training is the coordination of the various subsystems that must work together to have a successful intelligent device management strategy. Plant asset management systems, historians, DCS host systems and operator stations, all the way up to CMMS applications, must all be coordinated, and their corresponding data flows must be mapped. This isn’t necessarily a difficult exercise, but it is essential, and the timing is even more essential. If you wait until after startup to plan how you will use information from your intelligent devices, it will probably take you twice as long to launch your IDM strategy effectively compared to initiation in the FEED phase.

Digital instrumentation in modernization projects

Many of the fieldbus projects today are greenfield projects. However, we are seeing an increase in fieldbus for modernization applications. Protocols like HART already have a large installed base in many process plants, but HART devices by and large are not integrated with process automation systems or plant asset management applications. There is a large amount of diagnostic data that is stranded in these plants and cannot be put to good use.

Here the challenge is different. You have an existing workforce that is probably entrenched in doing things a certain way. In cases like this, early buy-in is important. You need to convince your maintenance and operations personnel that this will make their jobs better, improve their performance as employees, and give them a better understanding of their plant. With early buy-in, the necessary and corresponding training is also more effective.

A new ISA standard

About the authors

Larry O’Brien is global marketing manager at Fieldbus Foundation. Contact him at [email protected]. John Rezabek is a process control specialist for ISP in Lima, Ohio. Email him at [email protected]. Herman Storey is chief technology officer at Herman Storey Consulting. Contact him at [email protected].

Standards bodies are a good way to propagate standard work processes and best practices. Today, the industry needs a standard that will outline the work processes and best practices for implementing and using intelligent field device information management systems. Similar standards efforts have taken place in the past with great success. ISA 95 outlined the key work processes in production management applications. Many suppliers now build their production management applications around the ISA 95 work process model. ISA 106 lays out the best practices surrounding the automation of procedures in process plants — which processes should be automated and which should be manual or guided. A large group of us are now launching a standards effort within ISA to outline standard work processes for intelligent device information management.

Complementary standards efforts

There are many standards efforts that are being undertaken in the process industries that revolve around plat assets and even devices, but none of them address IDM for maintenance and operations. NAMUR is an international organization comprised of end users from the process industries throughout the EMEA region that develops recommendation documents for end users and suppliers. The NAMUR NE 129 recommendation specifies “Requirements of Online Plant Asset Management Systems,” and it does a very good job at outlining the purpose of plant asset management systems and their place in the world of plant asset health. The ISO PC 251 effort is part of the ISO 55000 Asset Management standard. ISO 55000 primarily focuses on the inspect-and-test side of asset management. ISO 55000 doesn’t address the requirements of IDM.

The Institute of Asset Management (IAM) is a UK-based physical asset management association. In 2004, IAM, through the British Standards Institute (BSI), published “Publicly Accepted Specifications” (PAS) for Asset Management. These include PAS 55-1:2008, Part 1: Specification for the optimized management of physical assets and PAS 55-2:2008, Part 2: Guidelines for the Application of PAS 55-1. However, the PAS standards’ primary focus is not on instrumentation and again leans heavily toward the inspect-and-test side of the business. These standards tend to be heavily focused on physical assets, not the devices that control them.

Sponsored Recommendations

Arc Flash Prevention: What You Need to Know

March 28, 2024
Download to learn: how an arc flash forms and common causes, safety recommendations to help prevent arc flash exposure (including the use of lockout tagout and energy isolating...

Reduce engineering time by 50%

March 28, 2024
Learn how smart value chain applications are made possible by moving from manually-intensive CAD-based drafting packages to modern CAE software.

Filter Monitoring with Rittal's Blue e Air Conditioner

March 28, 2024
Steve Sullivan, Training Supervisor for Rittal North America, provides an overview of the filter monitoring capabilities of the Blue e line of industrial air conditioners.

Limitations of MERV Ratings for Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
It can be complicated and confusing to select the safest and most efficient dust collector filters for your facility. For the HVAC industry, MERV ratings are king. But MERV ratings...