‘The challenge is to make protocols invisible at the enterprise level’
Paul Sereiko, Director of Marketing, FieldComm Group, in conversation with Jyothi Joseph, Director, IED Communications. Excerpts from the interview...
Tell us something about the FieldComm Group – what it does exactly?
The FieldComm Group is in existence for about three years now. It was born as a result of the collaboration between the HART Communication Foundation and the Fieldbus Foundation. Shortly thereafter we launched in 2015 a new technology called Field Device Integration or FDI. The main mission is to provide specifications, testers and product verification services for devices made by the member organisations. These are large automation companies like Emerson, Siemens, ABB, Endress & Hauser, among others.
What about the formation of the Fieldcomm India organisation?
Soon after the formation of the FieldComm group we started establishing regional presence and one of the strongest regions for us has always been India. This has been a great market for us because our technology is used by many large plants here, e.g., Reliance Industries. So as part of our efforts to build a global marketing presence we recruited a number of volunteers from local member companies in India to form the FieldComm Group India Society. This is a non profit organisation of member companies of FieldComm Group that have offices in India. The group participates in a series of events including Automation Expo, and conducts seminars for end users, propagating our technologies in the country.
Besides participation in events and conducting seminars, are there other activities like training programmes?
Yes, we have two categories of audiences for whom we conduct training programmes. The first, and we are very well equipped here, is our member companies for whom we have training developers. We train them about technologies and how to develop products that use those technologies. The second category of training – potentially a growth area for us – is the end user training. We find in large instances – not only in India but all over the world – that the end user industries using the technologies are not using them for their fullest capabilities. There is obviously a certain gap in education for this and we are trying to figure this out and it is still under planning process.
What is your role in the organisation?
I am the director of marketing and that means I am responsible for two broad areas. First is the internal work related to marketing – our website, some of our educational programmes, our branding, etc. The second part of my job is as head of our global marketing organisation. We have presence in many regions of the world – the Middle-East, Germany, UK and the Americas – through local organisations much like the one in India. I have to oversee their activities and ensure their requirements are met in terms of support needed, etc.
With your global experience can you tell us which countries are more receptive to new technologies?
That is a really an interesting question and offers some insight. We find that the Indian and Chinese markets are more receptive to new technologies. They are willing to try new technologies earlier than others, and that is the reason we have local marketing presence in both countries. But another interesting question is which countries have the best knowledge of technologies? Here I find that in some markets like Germany and other western European countries there are experts in companies and end users, who have very good knowledge about these technologies. This is not necessarily the case elsewhere. In the former, they are delving deep into the technical details, whereas in other markets they want something that really operates well – how it works is not of much interest to them. This is just an observation!
What explains the eagerness in India and China to embrace new technologies?
Well, both these are large, emerging economies, and a lot of growth is happening with infrastructure that is not adequate, so there are problems to overcome. Take the example of the cell phone, which has grown really fast in China than the landline. The reason is, it does not need vast infrastructure and the same is the case in India. So there is no legacy technology, and it is easier for them to adopt new technologies.
You mentioned in the beginning that technologies are not used to the fullest. Is this something happening only in India or China, or also happens elsewhere?
Frankly speaking, we find this phenomenon of technologies not being used to the fullest all over. There is a variety of reasons for that, but a lot of it comes down to the gap between the OT and the IT within the organisation. There is need for the workings of these two to be more aligned. What we are doing with new technologies like the FDI, for example, is to build a stepping stone so that data from the plant floor moves up to the executive offices, via cloud based applications. This breaks down the barriers between OT and IT so that there is better coordination in process automation, one that brings efficiencies into operations.
There is the question of multiple protocols like HART, Fieldbus, Profinet, ODVA, OPC, etc., so do you see the possibility of all these coming under a common platform?
If you are referring to the technologies, the answer is probably no, because each of these protocols are ideally suited to specific use cases. Wireless HART, for example, is more suited for process automation and the reliability it needs, so yes, different protocols will exist. The challenge is to make these protocols invisible at the higher or the enterprise level. A control engineer at a plant does not care whether the temperature or pressure comes from a HART device or a Foundation Fieldbus device, as long as it is accurate and reliable. So it is easier to bury the technologies underneath various layers of software like we do with the FDI and use OPC UA. The latter is not a protocol but a software modelling technology that allows for easy transport of information from the plant floor to the enterprise level. The analogy I would make here is of the projector – there are many different ways to connect it to the computer, but what matters is the projection on the screen, not how it is connected. In the PC industry they have succeeded in doing this, and we are striving to do the same in automation.
What is next on the agenda at the FieldComm Group – what do you see as the next level?
Well there are two things that are happening. Back in November 2017 we had announced an alliance with ODVA and PI – Profibus & Profinet International – and EtherNet/IP to work together. This is to commercialise a new two-layer technology called APL or advanced physical layer. What APL will enable is 10 Mb/s communication over a powered two-wire interface. It is a great new technology that will take about three years to move into mainstream, but will offer enhanced bandwidth to field devices. The other development is what happened recently at the Orlando ARC Forum where we announced the extension of our existing partnership with the OPC Foundation. This envisages forming a working group to create what is called a ‘standardised process automation device information’ model, which is a software term. In simple language this means we will provide the software for protocol independent applications at the top. This is irrespective of what is the protocol of the device at the bottom. The result will be seamless device and system communication and interoperability.
FieldComm Group (USA)
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