Developed and maintained by the not-for-profit FDT Group, FDT® technology has been at the forefront of digitization since it was first introduced in the 1990s. Its goal is to empower the intelligent enterprise with open and standardized data-centric integration independent of platform, field communications protocols and devices—driving widespread implementation of standards-based automation solutions for process, hybrid and discrete manufacturing.
The recently released FDT 3.0 specifications support the FDT Unified Environment (UE), which will enable automation vendors to drive smart manufacturing operations. FDT UE includes comprehensive security, an OPC Unified Architecture (UA) Server for IT/OT data access and a Web Server for mobile and remote access. The solution delivers standards-based, platform-independent, information-driven business models across the manufacturing sector.
The key driver of FDT’s smart manufacturing functionality starts with its core technology component—Device Type Managers™ (DTMs™) running the new FDT 3.0 standard.
Evolving Data-Driven, Intelligent Device Solutions
Intended for use with both simple and complex devices, the FDT/DTM contains the application software that defines all the parameters and capabilities included in each instrument. The DTM encapsulates all device-specific data, functions and business rules such as the device structure, its communication capabilities, internal dependencies, and its human-machine interface (HMI) structure.
The FDT standard incorporates a number of specific DTM types, including Device DTMs, Interpreter DTMs, Universal DTMs, Communications DTMs, and Gateway DTMs. These DTMs empower a standardized way of communicating, while exchanging information completely independent of the manufacturer, device type, system, or IT/OT protocol used in applications ranging from small desktop environments to enterprise-wide server/cloud architectures.
New generation DTMs automatically make device data and health information available via an OPC UA Server embedded on the FDT Server used in the FDT 3.0 architecture, asset management is now deployable as a cloud service as part of an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Industrie 4.0 initiative. This architecture “flattens” the automation pyramid so that any application requiring data from devices can retrieve it directly from OPC UA through the DTM.
FDT 3.0 DTMs have further evolved with business logic shifting to Microsoft .NET Core technology and the user interface moving to web-based technology, thus diversifying the presentation of asset-related device information. The use of web technology allows server-based distributed architectures to enhance the user experience with mobile and remote access solutions.
Unlike DTMs based on the earlier FDT 1.2 or FDT 2.0 standards, FDT 3.0 DTMs employ responsive touch screen features as part of HTML 5.0 development, which are mandatory for use with tablets and smart phones. This ensures the familiar interface found on today’s mobile devices is integral to the DTM environment.
Utilizing a Modern, Integrated Development Environment
With the introduction of the FDT 3.0 standard, FDT Group released associated FDT 3.0 DTM Common Components toolkits to help the vendor community jump start FDT development with a modernized Integrated Development Environment (IDE). The updated FDT 3.0 DTM Common Components—the only platform-independent testing tools of their kind in the industry—help to minimize engineering effort, simplify DTM certification and shorten time to market for new product offerings.
When the DTM Common Components toolkits were first introduced with the FDT 2.0 standard, their primary purpose was to provide better interoperability and help instrumentation companies expedite their DTM development activities. This functionality has been enhanced with FDT 3.0 while leveraging decades of recognized industry expertise embedded in the toolkit.
Enhancements to the FDT Common Components from FDT 2.0 to the current FDT 3.0 standard have greatly improved their ease of use for DTM developers, thus contributing to reduced time and effort for related development programs within a new contemporary environment. New capabilities with the toolkit will benefit companies seeking to differentiate their products from the competition. These features are intended to free DTM development teams to focus on value-added parameter profiles for device functions, web UI and other customized App features.
The latest enhanced FDT features supported by the FDT 3.0 DTM Common Components include platform independence, an advanced Web User Interface (UI), auto-enabled OPC UA compatibility, customized graphical parameterization, and rigorous DTM security.
Since the FDT 3.0 DTM Common Components are completely platform independent—allowing FDT-based solutions to feature cross-platform functionality—they can be used on leading computing platforms such as Apple, Linux and Windows. This approach allows users to retain their preferred environment for device firmware manufacturing while ensuring a unified development approach. In addition, the use of web technology now makes it possible to create a true distributed architecture by separating the user interface from the server. The client, server and DTMs are all thin and can be hosted on any platform.
The FDT 3.0 DTM Common Components are essential in driving development initiatives centered around the creation of OPC UA information models. With these tools, OPC UA is auto-enabled for DTMs—meaning no additional coding or work is required. The native integration of OPC UA makes it possible to publish data for a wide-range of purposes. This will provide end users with an out-of-the-box solution for accessing DTM information and making it available to cloud-based applications.
The FDT 3.0 standard and its DTM Common Components support a secure DTM deployment procedure, enabling developers to package and sign DTMs and offer customers the assurance they have been tested and certified by FDT Group. Updated security measures also provide non-repudiation and tamper evidence so users can be confident of the source of their DTMs and know their functionality has not been altered by a third-party.
Deploying Innovative, Smart Device DTM Business Models
From a business perspective, the FDT 3.0 standard makes it possible for automation companies to deploy new, innovative device DTM business models, which leverage the advantages of improved interoperability, native OPC UA support, a modern Web UI providing customization and mobile access capabilities, streamlined DTM certification and cloud repository features, and easier developer tools to help reduce time to market for new smart DTM-based products.
For example, companies that use FDT 3.0 DTM Common Components will see reduced cost and effort for DTM development and certification. The FDT 3.0 DTM Common Components include thousands of lines of prewritten and tested code that ensure DTM base code complies with the FDT standard. As such, this robust toolkit frees DTM developers from having to write and debug voluminous amounts of their own code. They no longer have to become experts on FDT technology, but rather can focus on enhancing their products with advanced features.
By combining the FDT 3.0 DTM Common Components with value-added parameter profiles enabling the unique functionality and UI of their device, development teams can move forward with a customized solution without having to learn all the technical nuances of the FDT specification. FDT 3.0 DTM Common Components Help Files provide step-by-step instructions for optimizing DTM development activities.
In addition, developers can make use of FDT 3.0 Sample DTMs, which show how to utilize the various features and capabilities of the FDT 3.0 DTM Common Components toolkit. The Sample DTMs include basic functionality that developers can apply as a starting point for their creating their own DTMs.
The Common Components also assist device suppliers looking to migrate existing FDT DTM 2.0 business logic to support FDT 3.0 applications. (The business logic can largely stay intact but needs to be updated to .NET Core technology, which may involve some work in converting the UI.) This is an important benefit for organizations that are transitioning to FDT 3.0 technology and seeking new ways to present DTM information to their customers.
The robust web UI with FDT 3.0 allows DTMs to be opened in any browser, including mobile devices carried by field personnel. Mobility applications are a specific example of where the power of FDT 3.0 DTMs comes into play. Companies can utilize the technology’s standardized mobility platform as part of their service functionality, helping site engineers solve problems with remote assistance.
The FDT 3.0 DTM Common Components also enable developers to address the majority of the test cases involved in the DTM certification process while eliminating the need to test and verify their own software functions. With the toolkit’s pre-written base code, compliance is auto-enabled and there is no need to review the FDT specification to implement compliance code. Rather, developers can customize specific device functionality and web UI code. The FDT 3.0 DTM Common Components also help with development of manifest files and the utilization of an open package format to streamline delivery of DTM packages.
All certified FDT 3.0 DTMs comply with the NAMUR NE-107 recommendation, which stipulates that operators need a view of the process including the status of the instrumentation in a simple and uniform way—regardless of source device—to support predictive maintenance strategies. As such, the DTMs are a crucial enabler for apps intended to view the health of field devices, and subsequently improve maintenance workflows.
Finally, the FDT Group has unveiled the new FDThub repository for certified DTMs. This repository, which can be in the cloud or on premise, is where DTMs are securely stored and managed, allowing for automatic device discovery and notifications for end users when new DTM updates are available. With the FDThub solution, the days of searching for DTMs are over. The vendor community can now manage their DTMs with user role access privileges.
With the availability of FDT 3.0 DTM Common Components, and their ability to optimize the development of standardized and compliant DTMs, device suppliers can achieve a number of important technical and business advantages. First, they can provide a new generation of robust DTMs meeting the expectations of their customers. Secondly, they can leverage technology enhancements supporting the new era of industrial automation with connected sensor-to-cloud systems in modern industrial facilities. Finally, they can deliver new DTMs to market faster and subsequently improve their bottom line.
Authors: Robert Hartmann and Dr. Michael Gunzert CodeWrights