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Serving global industrial automation: IEC publishes new fieldbus standards
Article Type: News From: Assembly Automation, Volume 28, Issue 3
Worried about setting up a network in your home or office? That is nothing compared to the needs of today’s industrial environment which requires a robust digital communication network connecting controllers, sensors, actuators and transducers. This network is made possible by the IEC Fieldbus Standards whose use facilitates the exchange of information for device configuration, data collection and device control. Put simply, the fieldbus is a set of protocols that enables machines to communicate with each other with the guaranteed responsiveness, reliability and safety demanded by today’s industrial environments.
Why are digital networks so significant to industry? Whereas traditional installations require one wire per information element to be transmitted between a controller and a device (point-to-point), a fieldbus allows this information to be transmitted over a common standardized network infrastructure. The ability to use such infrastructures, designed to meet stringent industrial environments, reduces wiring lifecycle costs and facilitates the deployment of more intelligent devices, with advanced configuration and diagnostics features. This permits manufacturers to meet the market requirements for increased flexibility of automation applications while economically managing the resulting complexity of the solution.
The latest series of IEC Fieldbus Standards respond to the latest technologies available. Since, the last edition published in 2003, the automation world has seen the emergence of new ethernet-based fieldbus, intended to complement the existing fieldbus, and the installation of programmable and networked equipment in safety-related applications.
To follow this evolution, the new edition includes profiles for these real-time ethernet fieldbus, together with other industry sector network profiles which had not been included in the previous editions. This new edition has also added profiles specifically designed for the use of fieldbus technology to transmit safety-related data. Finally, the need for more guidance in the installation of fieldbus has been addressed by defining a basic guidance for the installation of communication networks in industrial premises (IEC 61918) and dedicated parts of the IEC Fieldbus Standards that for each fieldbus technology establish which options of the basic guidance apply and which additional guidance shall be used.
The IEC Fieldbus Standards provide a variety of established solutions that cover a wide range of application requirements, from process control to manufacturing automation. These solutions have been contributed from the industry players in Europe, America and Asia-Pacific. An industrial manufacturer or machine/process supplier may choose from these solutions the one that is best suited for the specific needs of the application and the environment in which it is to be implemented. This selection is facilitated by the harmonized terminology and open systems interconnection-based structure of the protocol specifications used in the IEC standards.
The 79 IEC Fieldbus Standards are broken down into 15 communication profile families:
Commenting on the publication of the IEC Fieldbus Standards, Secretary of IEC Technical Subcommittee 65C, Industrial Networks, Bernard Dumortier said: “The IEC Fieldbus Standards have been a challenge for the IEC in that the technology goes across a whole range of technologies traditionally covered by different expert groups. It was the first system type challenge to the previous automation product centric approach within the IEC technical committee”.
The IEC Fieldbus Standards development introduced new system perspectives, new technology and challenged the IEC structure of vertical product-centric technical committees at the time. The IEC Fieldbus Standards have to facilitate connecting multiple devices of different capability and also meet a wide variety of specific application requirements in a wide variety of industries. The resulting solution although not elegant to the standards purist, meets the practical needs of industry and has evolved successfully to incorporate new technologies, and new features such as safety.
The lessons learned from development of the IEC Fieldbus Standards are being taken into account for other technologies, including nanotechnologies, environment, energy, safety and security, where system standards may have to meet similar diverse application and industry automation needs while integrating existing controllers, sensors, actuators and transducers product standards.