Intelligent field devices used in manufacturing processes perform and communicate diagnostic measurements about the health of the process and process equipment. For example, intelligent control valves can detect insufficient air supply or calibration changes and intelligent analytical devices can detect electrode aging or failure (1). “Most new analog devices are intelligent, and the corresponding input/output card on the control system is capable of accessing the digital information, such as diagnostics and, in the case of control elements, feedback position,” explains Ian Verhappen, managing director of Yokogawa Canada. Suppliers note that the data generated by intelligent devices could be used to identify pending problems and thus improve maintenance and control decisions. The capability of intelligent devices, however, is underutilized in most industries that have access to these devices. More than 80% of smart-instrument data is not being used, estimates Verhappen. Verhappen is also the managing director of a new standards committee for Intelligent Device Management at the International Society of Automation (ISA), ISA108. ISA108 will define standard templates of best practices and work processes for design, development, installation, and use of diagnostic and other information provided by intelligent field devices in the process industries, ISA explained in an Aug. 15, 2012 press release.
An intelligent device management strategy is particularly important for regulated industries like pharmaceuticals. “Having an intelligent device management strategy can ease regulatory compliance and validation and improve traceability. It is also a big step towards digital record keeping. These intelligent devices leave a digital trail behind them of all the maintenance activities that are done, who did them, and when. They have the capability to store large amounts of data about themselves and the processes they control,” notes Charley Robinson, manager for Standards & Technology at ISA.
There are various reasons that intelligent devices are underutilized in pharmaceuticals and other industries. One challenge is that many users do not know which of the many parameters are of greatest value to them, says Verhappen, who notes that a typical fieldbus transmitter has in excess of 300 parameters. “Users need a process to get the right information from the device to the right person at the right time to do something with it,” says Verhappen, “For example, operators do not need to know today that maintenance should be performed on the valve air regulator in 2 weeks, but they should know if the temperature measurement on a vessel is bad because the thermocouple has failed.”
“The main hurdle we see is not in implementation of the technology but in the access and management of the plethora of information now available from smart instruments,” agree Joe Valencia, global account manager for the pharmaceutical industry at Rockwell Automation and Ravi Shankar, industry manager for life sciences at Endress+Hauser. “A company must have bandwidth to manage, present, and analyze the data so that it is useful to operators and maintenance personnel. Once the process to present the data is defined, validation of that process will present an additional challenge.” A key to success is the interoperability between the process control system and instrumentation, note Valencia and Shankar. To this end, Endress+Hauser and Rockwell Automation both have joint integration offices and laboratories for testing Endress+Hauser devices with Rockwell’s PlantPAx process automation control system. Both Rockwell Automation and Endress+Hauser plan on active participation in ISA108.
As in many projects, a key to successfully using this relatively new technology is having a champion who is willing to learn how to use and access the information, comments Verhappen. He notes that technician buy-in is another crucial factor, and that technicians need to see that this information is being used to make their jobs easier rather than as a tool to monitor what they are doing.
The ISA108 committee plans to issue a series of standards to address models and terminology, implementation guidelines, work processes, diagnostics-based maintenance, configuration management, and auditing. The committee will first start with definitions and technical reports containing recommendations, which will later, based on experience, be revised and made into full standards, says Verhappen.