An Attendee's Account of the German Conference Proceedings, Discussions and Conclusions
With an aim of being "informative, communicative, constructive", the 3rd German Foundation Fieldbus Conference took place in Marl on February 28th. The morning session was devoted to presentations by end users about their Foundation technology experiences, which then formed the basis of three well-attended round-table discussions. The new approach met with everyone's approval, and there was a single overriding conclusion: the future will be digital.
The third German Foundation Fieldbus Conference was held in the Marl Chemical Park for the first time and followed a different format to that of previous years. The organising committee made a deliberate move away from a straight lecture programme to a day with an emphasis on sharing user applications experiences. Table-top displays by the fourteen Fieldbus Foundation member companies sponsoring the event enabled participants to learn about new and proven fieldbus technology.
Wolfgang Höferlin, chairman of the Fieldbus Foundation German marketing committee, welcomed the attendees and opened the morning end user presentation session. Whereas in previous years only end users presented their experiences, this year's presentation program also included facility planners reporting on their experiences of Foundation technology. In his presentation, Horst Rappen, of VTA Verfahrenstechnik und Automatisierung GmbH, gave a detailed description on how to proceed when planning a Foundation Fieldbus facility. Björg Otte, head of EMR maintenance at BP in Gelsenkirchen, stressed that he had only positive things to say about Foundation Fieldbus. He explained very vividly how the operation and maintenance of a refinery are structured in the digital communication age. Marc Van Pelt, vice president of Fieldbus Foundation EMEA Operations, updated attendees with the trends and technology forecasts from the Fieldbus Foundation's recent General Assembly that had the theme "Changing the playing field". This symbolises the move away from the simple ‘digital replacement of conventional 4-20 mA technology' toward a comprehensive infrastructure for the standardised management of data, communications, asset management and business processes. Foundation fieldbus forms the basis for an all-embracing, standardised system of business management commonly known as ‘Business Intelligence'.
Even the lunch break saw some very lively discussion in smaller groups. In the afternoon, all attendees took the opportunity to expand on what they had been hearing in three parallel round-table groups on the three subject areas of Tendering and Planning, Operation and Maintenance, and Commissioning and Facility Handover. The sessions were held twice, enabling everyone to take part in two of the three discussion rounds. However, it quickly became clear that the individual areas could not be separated so easily. All six rounds finally debated the entire life-cycle of a Foundation fieldbus facility.
Summary of the round-table discussions:
- Planners of Foundation fieldbus projects must consider at a very early stage what must be achieved, and how. It may be that the end customer and suppliers need to be included in this process at this early stage. This does not necessarily lengthen the project; on the contrary, the initial extra cost and effort is quickly paid off in the form of an improved process with far fewer changes.
- Tasks such as I&C planning are moved from the field into the DCS, which can change some of the processes, requirements and documents.
- The use of fieldbus requires a certain amount of re-thinking, since the training of maintenance personnel or software version management must be considered at the planning stage.
- In the meantime, tools have come onto the market that simplify commissioning and documentation.
- The "structural change" that fieldbus invokes also brings about a need for adapted training strategies. This applies particularly to network component maintenance.
- Preliminary tests in have been helpful in many projects so far, however this approach is not acceptable for a tested and certified technology in the medium term.
- Increased attention is needed to manage and ensure consistency of firmware and software release status. Further-improved methods need to be developed in this area.
- There is a requirement for tolerant, easily commissioned devices that can be interchanged with no downtime.
- Users demand devices whose basic functions are available immediately after connection to the bus.
Most of the conference attendees already had experience with fieldbus technology. The participants ranged from university staff to planning and engineering companies and global players in the chemical industry. Some companies sent representatives to gather information. The significant increase in participant numbers compared to previous years is a further indication that interest in Foundation fieldbus is growing. The end user participants are keen that the Fieldbus Foundation and its manufacturing members incorporate their constructive criticism into their product development processes as far as possible, to help reduce the resistance to this "new" technology. Despite vigorous discussions about a few teething troubles with Foundation technology, one thing was certain for all of the participants at the end of the event: the future belongs to digital communication.