Ted Masters, President and CEO at FieldComm Group, USA, responded to a few questions posed by Industrial Automation, on the eve of Automation Expo 2017. Excerpts…
What is the core business of the FieldComm Group?
The FieldComm Group combines the resources of Fieldbus Foundation and HART Communication Foundation to focus on and deliver digital tools and solutions essential to improved plant operations based on the Internet of Things – IoT.
Digital devices ushered in an era of massive amounts of data, in a sense, too much data. In order to effectively be part of the IoT, this data must be boiled down to actionable intelligence that can be used to make better decisions quicker for constantly improving operations. Our business purpose is to deliver automation solutions that do just that.
Do you think the industry has made adequate efforts towards integrating digital devices into automation system architectures? If no, why not?
The Process Automation Industry certainly has tried to do just that. In fairness, process automation is a much more complex environment to insert digital solutions into. Consider that a process plant is typically built to operate for 20+ years. Additionally, consider that the plant when shut down generates no revenue or profit. Adding a digital device is relatively easy these days but integrating it into your plant operations typically calls for not just physical integration but additionally software integration. Secondly, it is not just adding a digital device but rather utilising the information the device provides to make better decisions in operating the plant. So, when adding digital devices, one has to take a systematic view and a solution view. We still have a long way to go but a lot of progress is being made. Our latest efforts with Field Device Integration or FDI, is a huge leap forward in providing a solution for integration of disparate system components and software. The digitalisation of process operations is growing. A great example of the benefits of digitalisation exists right here in India. The Reliance Jamnagar complex, the largest refinery in the world, is a great example of Process Automation digitalisation and the myriad of benefits that can be realised.
What is your Indian Market like? What products find the most acceptances?
We enjoy strong acceptance in both the public and private sectors. I guess you could say our products are Foundation Fieldbus, WirelessHART and wired HART. All of these technologies are widely deployed across the country in a number of industries. We view the potential market as an enormous opportunity with vast potential for growth within public infrastructure as water and waste water plants and power generating plants are added. Within the private sector new gas plants are on the horizon, refineries, chemical plants, pharmaceutical plants, etc.
The economic future of India is very promising and FieldComm Group believes that they can play a valuable role in that growth.
What is your plan for the India market?
Our plan is to continue to support our member companies with broad marketing of our core technologies. We are very pleased to be a major participant in the Automation Expo series and plan on continuing to be a participant. What we realise is that continuous education is required so we will investigate all our options to launch more and more training of both suppliers and end users. We have been fortunate to have a Marketing Committee that is comprised of leading manufacturers and are making efforts to increase the participation. In short, we are here for the long haul and looking forward to strong success.
Do you think, for a country that produces so much technology, we are adequately into automation?
I think that India has a tremendous appetite for technology. It has many challenges ahead as it works to build a broad infrastructure of public and private enterprises across a very large geographic area. But, from what I have seen, Indian engineers are most interested in utilising the “best” technology for those plants, so the future is very bright.
What more can be done for increasing automation in Indian enterprises?
As I said, I believe that the India market has a strong appetite for digital solutions in automation. Our member companies need to continue the education of their clients in terms of the automation solutions available. It is not simply digital devices but which basic technology delivers the functionality they require and how best to integrate that device into a digital architecture.
What are your expectations from Industrial Expo 2017?
Education, Education, Education! Our stand at the exhibition offers an opportunity for end users to see, feel and touch our core technologies and talk with experts on how best to maximise the capabilities of the technology in terms of their needs. Whether it is 1 end user at a time or 100, we will consider each day a success if we can accomplish that.
Being an expert in Automation for so many years, what would be your advice to organisations planning to increase automation in their operations for optimising business growth?
I truly believe education is the key to successfully integrating automation into their business plans. Economies today are globally competitive. Product price is important but so is quality of product. Automation plays a role in each of these. As an example, unscheduled shut downs due to equipment failures or perceived failures cost millions to a large petrochemical plant, or refinery, or pharmaceutical facility or food processing facility. Product quality has a similar impact. A well-educated process engineer can make the right choice as to selection and use of automation products to eliminate and or reduce downtime or quality issues. Many of our member companies offer excellent and thorough training in all our technologies across several levels from engineering, to project management to maintenance. The second piece of advice I would provide is to involve all essential parties early in the process. This provides a sense of ownership in the decision which contributes greatly to buy in by all parties.
What do you see as the next steps, beyond IoT, industrial automation and M2M – where is the next innovation coming from?
I wish I had a crystal ball, but unfortunately I don’t. As I said earlier, process plants are built for 20+ years of lifecycles. I think there is still a lot to gain with the technologies we have today as we build more and more artificial intelligence into these systems. We have a very bright future with a new generation of young engineers that have been raised with digital products that understand them and see uses we haven’t yet imagined.
How does FieldComm Group help integrating various technologies and improve usability for End Users?
It all starts with getting the data in the right places, and that connecting the digital data from intelligent devices and assets. We still have much to do in this regard as there are still many plants with analog and/or digital data stranded in the devices and that are not utilised in real time decision making. Converting all data to digital and bringing it into use is the first step – there is no analog in IoT. At FieldComm Group we have established a number of working groups, comprised of both suppliers and end users to address user issues such as cyber security, critically important usability, connectivity and integration standards, to connect and integrate data to hosts across the enterprise. Research indicates that 50% of process industry facilities now use field device digital data for real-time applications. In addition to connecting devices, device information must be integrated with higher level systems. A recent Control Survey of end users indicated these three areas as top concerns: Staff Training; Device Driver Installation and Revision control; and Proprietary Systems. FieldComm Groups’ FDI initiative solves the second and third issues by simplifying the process for finding and installing drivers and requiring strict adherence to product registration requirements for FDI packages.