Fieldbus – Competent People will be at a Premium

Whatever digital fieldbus is your preference, if one wishes to maximise personal marketability it is time to think about gaining the competencies required to implement the technology.

Few would remember the last watershed in instrumentation, that is the change from pneumatics to electronics. Unfortunately I do and recollect it really hit home hard. At the time we had Scientific Instrument Makers who were responsible for the pneumatics and all those wonderful “gismos” like mercury manometers. All of a sudden these talented people were confronted with the “new technology” associated with electronics. Hence companies implemented costly training schemes and cross trained electricians who had some knowledge of wires and electrons. A proportion of the people involved in the transition adapted easily whilst others fell by the wayside after a few years.

The huge change from analogue to digital communications which is about to be imposed on us is likely to have a similar effect. I have heard it all before from people who “think” it is going to be a piece of cake to adopt this technology and above all be proficient in it. In my opinion most large new “greenfield” projects in the foreseeable future will utilise “fieldbus” technologies, thus if one is not contemplating imminent retirement it will be very important to address any skills shortfall.

Not withstanding the issue associated with new expertise requirements, these are really exciting times as it is only every 30 years or so that changes like this happen in our industry.

So what do YOU need to do to become knowledgable in this emerging technology area? If you have Internet access it is worthwhile perusing websites which may provide some “feel” for how fieldbus is put together. Good starting points are Rob Hulsebos’s fieldbus reference list http://ourworld-top.cs.com/rahulsebos/index.htm and the link to the Foundation fieldbus End Users Council Australia (Inc) (FFEUC-Aust) which can be found at www.iceweb.com.au. This site has a considerable amount of fieldbus data. It is also worth joining many of the fieldbus email technical lists.

One has to consider courses, starting with the basics and then real “hands on”. You will find that as an Instrument and Control practitioner there is a fundamental change required in that communications takes on a whole new focus. It is necessary to get to grips with user layers, communications stacks and physical layers along with other communications skills.

This is only a small part of the learning required to become proficient in fieldbus. The technology requires a complete change in “mindset” from the present analogue concepts. Design, construction, commissioning, documenting and maintenance techniques are radically different. We will learn lots of new terms such as “brick”, “chicken foot”, “segment” and “daisy chain”. Hence there is a very steep learning curve for us all to be “fieldbus ready”.

Tools are an important component in “how to implement fieldbus” and help avoid simple traps. Some companies have already developed or are developing “smart tools”. These include checking for correct connections, signal strength, segment loading, wiring acceptability and terminators in place.

The viewpoint is that it is very important for all Instrument and Control practitioners to become familiar with fieldbus technology. Sure, we can stay in the “Comfort Zone” of existing analogue systems but, beware, the fieldbus juggernaut is off and rolling and may leave you behind if action to address shortfall competencies in this area is not taken.

Jim Russell - Chair Foundation fieldbus End User Council Australia (Inc).