Field instrumentation increasingly relies on digital communication. So today, project success greatly depends on the ease of configuring devices to exchange data across digital networks. Modern smart devices have highly sophisticated capabilities but configuration remains a mostly manual process. In addition, far too many field devices must be designed for a given application and are heavily customized. This makes them expensive, difficult to change and engineering intensive. It also requires a large amount of documentation and testing.
Fortunately, with the current growth of the Industrial Internet of Things, opportunities exist to deploy cloud-based applications and smart connected assets to reduce the time, money and mistakes associated with instrument design, ordering, configuration and setup. Cloud engineering with integrated tools and automated documentation offers a way to decrease project risk and schedule, lower implementation costs and effort, simplify operations and minimize lifecycle cost, improve efficiency due to less downtime, and enhance safety. Engineering/procurement/construction (EPC) firms frequently achieve upfront savings of 15–30% of engineering cost by putting cloud-based tools to work.
A new breed of engineering application takes instrument configuration to the cloud, enabling error-free instrument ordering, pre-configuration to simplify installation, and online collaboration to increase project efficiencies. This translates to major reductions in device configuration and setup time. Cloud-based execution also eliminates duplicate engineering effort, minimizes errors and provides a simple “out of box” experience from specification start to installation while slashing testing requirements and commissioning effort.
With an automated device commissioning capability, engineers can configure control loops via the cloud and cut commissioning time to minutes from hours (Figure 1). Moreover, binding of the physical device in the field is automated with configuration done in the cloud.
Whereas project engineers once dealt with complicated and repetitive tasks in the initial project stages, automated device commissioning allows teams scattered about the globe to perform configuration development and testing. People can collaborate on work using the same tool and don’t need to send information and emails back and forth. All the testing can be done one time — in the cloud — using smart capabilities to time-stamp completed tests and flag future changes to the database.
Cloud-based tools also ease selecting the right instrument and configuration based on the exact parameters of an application (Figure 2) — avoiding costly mistakes upfront in the project. Personnel can use laptops, tablets or cell phones to input technical data about their specific requirements, collaborate with other stakeholders via a cloud infrastructure to expedite engineering decisions, and then determine the optimal setup for the necessary devices on the project. Documentation of the inputted design parameters and instrument configuration preserves engineering work electronically and allows for automated building of a model number for the device that is unique to the configuration requirements. As such, instruments can be ordered and delivered preconfigured, ready to be installed in the field, saving installation time.
In addition, the new web-based tools feature a graphical interface familiar to the younger generation of workers now assuming an increasing role in automation projects.
Putting New Tools To Work
The latest cloud-based configuration and commissioning tools can address a number of persistent challenges. In particular, they can handle one of the most difficult jobs on any automation project: determining where to land a field instrument within the control system. In one sense, this serves as the lynchpin for the rest of the configuration. In another, more traditional view, the entire control strategy paradigm is based on what channel that field instrument is connected to. Make a mistake and the entire control strategy doesn’t work.
With the advent of an automated device-commissioning capability, the inherent intelligence of smart transmitters such as those employing the HART protocol helps do away with time-consuming steps that once were mandatory on every project. It also addresses conventional requirements for a large, centralized marshaling area and enables moving redundant input/output (I/O) into the field.