Editorial: Unifying Control Systems for Industrial Automation Markets

October 17, 2023

For decades, there has been a delineation between Process Automation (PA) and Factory Automation (FA) control system applications. These application types solved definite challenges while being serviced by specific device and control system manufacturers. As automation communication protocols evolved, the lines between PA- and FA-based systems blurred, allowing vendors to simplify industrial device management for design, configuration, and operation covering both application types.

Today, it is not uncommon to see a PLC-based system (typically FA) solving process control applications. It is also not uncommon to see a DCS system (typically PA) communicating to sensors and actuators via discrete I/O or another network like IO-Link that may have only been applied in PLC-based applications before.

So, how are the different types of sensors and actuators configured in these different control system environments, since they are the same device – no matter the PA or FA system? The FDT (IEC 62453) standard supports open integration and device management, allowing vendors to offer system solutions with a unified environment supporting operational lifecycles for process, hybrid and discrete/machine builder applications.

FDT supports diverse engineering environments with standalone configuration tools, modular middleware hardware integration tools, and integrated engineering control and asset management applications. The open and flexible holistic FDT standard is protocol agnostic, allowing control, configuration, lifecycle monitoring, and data access to all connected devices in any mixed/nested network topology. The key component delivering asset management operations such as remote commissioning, configuration, parameterization, and diagnostics is the Device Type Manager (DTM).

Many hybrid applications (food/beverage, pharmaceutical, etc.) users may not be familiar with the FDT/DTM standard that can bridge these environments. Instead, they find their application functioning in isolated segments, delivering inefficient device management and maintenance routines that hurt critical production output. Users exploring opportunities for standardized intelligent device management can note that this use case is solvable. It’s important to talk with your vendors and include FDT during the bidding process to unify the application environment, including systems, devices, and communication networks.

FDT Group is a collaborative standard that works alongside other standards associations to harmonize device integration, management, and maintenance efforts – users should request it.

Our latest technical article takes a deeper look at use cases focused in FDT factory and hybrid applications….read on here.

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