The Great Fieldbus debate
- is Over!

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

The original versions of this article was published in
Industrial Controls Intelligence, November '99.

Jim Pinto
Debate Moderator

The Great Fieldbus Debate of ISA/99 in Philadelphia was probably the best-attended session at a somewhat sparsely attended ISA TechExpo/99 in Philadelphia (Oct. 99). It is interesting to note that nearly half the audience had attended the previous fieldbus debate at ISA/97 in Anaheim, CA. and there was an important thread of continuity.

Itís a "given" that Ethernet with TCP/IP is a de facto standard in networking and communications and proliferating in industrial automation. But vendors continue to push other fieldbus and industrial network protocols, making it harder than ever for users and systems integrators to make an informed selection.

The "holy-grail", of course, is "interoperability" which users are clamoring for and everyone recognizes will move the industry forward. But the standards committees continue to get bogged down in endless negotiations on irrelevant details, with each vendor jockeying for advantage in favor of specifications that give themselves a marketing or proprietary edge.

The ISA/99 Fieldbus Debate dealt such issues as multiple fieldbus leadership, process control vs. factory automation applications, merging fieldbus technologies, advent of new network technology leadership, and the possible emergence of a single, interoperable standard.

Cary Longest
Distributed Automation Lab
Philip Morris USA

Gary Workman
Controls, Robotics & Welding
General Motors N.America

Herman Storey
Equilon Enterprises
End Users

Cary Longest of Phillip Morris and Gary Workman of GM gave practical insights into their use of DeviceNet, ControlNet, Ethernet and how they have approached projects that yielded the benefits of industrial networks in harmony. Gary Workman showed a video of an interesting practical factory demonstration at the Hannover Fair in Germany, where a computer was running the factory and playing checkers at the same time. Herman Storey of Equillon comes from the process side, where he has used other networks; he reported that Foundation Fieldbus has already made significant headway with several process controls users.

The debate was privileged to feature Dick Caro, VP of Automation Research (ARC), chairman of ISA SP-50 fieldbus committee and convenor for the IEC SC65C/WG6 fieldbus committee. Dick spoke frankly of vendor infighting in the standards committees, as recently summarized in his excellent article "The Fieldbus Wars" (InTech July '99). It is interesting to remember that during the previous Fieldbus Debate at ISA/97, Cullen Langford, ex-Chairman of the SP-90 Fieldbus Committee made his famous comment about vendor obfuscation : "It is difficult to distinguish between stupidity and malevolence...."

Gene Yon
Senior VP Technology
Invensys Intelligent Automation

John Berra
Group Executive Fisher-Rosemount
Chairman Fieldbus Foundation

Tom Quinn
Founder & Exec. VP

On the supplier side, a dynamic Gene Yon of Invensys presented his views on the proliferation of Ethernet and the advances made with Fieldbus Foundation, with a clear call for inter-vendor cooperation on interoperability. John Berra of Fisher/Rosemount eloquently proclaimed that "the debate is over" - because Foundation Fieldbus was already delivering practical and demonstrable results. Tom Quinn of Zoneworx bellowed the battle-cry of his budding business - "EtherNet or die!"

Where does this leave us? Clearly Ethernet and TCP/IP are proliferating enough where everyone is "incorporating" them into all their standards. SP-50 seems to be fragmenting itself into oblivion by vendor politics. Dick Caro announced the conditions under which he would continue to work diligently for the standard and failing which he would resign his chairmanship of the committees. It seemed clear to the sympathetic audience that the likelihood of Dick's expectations for vendor cooperation being met are somewhere between zero and nil. So, this meant an inevitable resignation.

During the previous debate, with about 800 days left to the turn of the millennium, I challenged the industry to finally announce the interoperable SP-50 standard by December 31, 1999, or let it die! At this debate, with just 80 days left, its fate seems sealed. I encourage Dick Caro to abandon his involvement with the ill-fated committee, not just simply and quietly - but to do so with all the pomp and fanfare that the industry media will support. This is a signal that, like MAP, SP-50 is still-born and should be abandoned.

Fieldbus Standard is dead! Long live industrial networks!

Dick Caro Gets the Last Words on This Topic

Richard Caro
Vice President, Automation Research Corp. Automation Advisory Group
Chairman, SP-50 Fieldbus Committee
Convenor, IEC SC65C/WG6 Committee (Recently Resigned in Protest)

The SP50 debate is over. It is an American National Standard and Foundation Fieldbus is being built to these specifications. The vendors participating in the IEC standards are not blocking it either - they all agree that a single international standard is not possible, so they are behind the 8-way document now being voted by National Committees. It is only the end users who are against this non-standard Industrial Technical Agreement. Meanwhile the suppliers continue to promote consortium and proprietary standards knowing full well that they will all be obsolete in a year or so by Ethernet-TCP/IP with interoperable stacks for each unique obsoleted network.

I agreed to resign from the IEC Convenor position if the 8-way draft passes, not in disgust, but because there would be no work to do. At least, if there were any work to do, I would not like the task of convening a meeting at which there would be no volunteers. I also promised that, if somehow the opponents managed to defeat this current 8-way proposal, I would remain as Convenor to begin the task of melding all 7 alternatives INTO the then International Standard that would be identical to the SP50 standard. This work would have not be in vain, but would serve as valuable source material for a better standard.

Note : The IEC vote in favor of an 8-part standard moved forward in January 2000, and Dick Caro resigned, as he had promised. This farcical state of affriars - an 8-standards standard - can only be described in poetry. Take a look at Jim Pinto's poem on the subject :

Click here to read the poem The 8-part Fieldbus Voting Fiasco

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