Automation Insider: Bringing It All Together

0112-automationThe 2013 ARC World Industry Forum was the 17th in a series of successful annual events. Held Feb. 11-14 in Orlando, this year’s Forum appeared to live up to its billing as the largest general gathering of people involved with industrial automation in the United States. While you might think that the presentations were all about control and process engineering, or that they were aimed primarily at operations personnel, there was much more to the 2013 program.

To be specific, there was plenty of discussion about maintenance, reliability and asset management. One theme I picked up from many of the sessions I attended concerned how technology can lead the way in breaking through barriers that exist among different groups in a plant. Everybody likes a good solution.

What I learned along the way
Ron Helson, Executive Director of the Hart Communication Foundation, told me that maintenance personnel often are not told about all the benefits of using Hart networking. For example, did you know you can tap into the network at any point and find the status of any device on it? 

Let’s say operations were to tell you something flaky is going on with a transmitter that just so happens to be located high atop a tower. You probably start worrying about that long climb to check out the status. Then you remember that you can simply tap into the network and check the status through the built-in diagnostics in the Hart protocol to determine your next step. Maybe you don’t have to climb up there after all.

Glenn Schulz, Executive Director of the FDT Group, explained the way each instrumentation vendor can build faceplates that show all the characteristics of a given device. In this way, both operations and maintenance can gather far more information than you might have imagined about the devices they deal with. This leads to much faster diagnosing of problems and the ability to take the right tools and replacement parts out to the field.

Finally, Larry O’Brien, Marketing Director of the Fieldbus Foundation, discussed how knowing the status of the network at any point in time can help you correct network problems quickly.

We’ll discuss these types of asset management issues and more in upcoming columns. MT

Gary Mintchell, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , co-founder and long-time editor in chief of Automation World magazine now writes at

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