It seems digital process fieldbus can’t get away from people saying “it’s too hard” or “growth is flat”, yet every day in other areas of people’s lives they continue to adopt more and more digital technology. While unsettling as it is to hear that, the most unsettling part is that there seems to lack any evidence to support the conclusion. Why does someone believe it’s too hard? Where can they point to prove there is a stall in digital fieldbus growth? Somehow a message gets disseminated that fieldbus has reached some peak despite data from ARC stating fieldbus is still growing at double digit rates.
Are there regions where fieldbus isn’t as widely adopted as alternatives? Certainly. But are there also areas where fieldbus is overwhelmingly the de facto standard? You bet. It’s hard to argue there have not been projects that should have gone fieldbus, and instead went 4-20mA. It’s also hard to argue there have been projects that seemed certain to go 4-20mA but ultimately stepped into modern fieldbus. There are fieldbus “physics” to be considered. For a given negative story, there is an equal and opposite positive success story to counter. So what then are we to believe?
The Fieldbus Foundation sees it this way: user demand is responsible for driving registrations of fieldbus devices… and as of August 2014, user demand has pushed manufacturers to register record setting numbers of FOUNDATION capable process instruments.
Understanding the Impact of User Demand on RegistrationsThe data below is for FOUNDATION fieldbus specifically. It is sourced directly from our registration data and reflects a growth in FOUNDATION fieldbus by way of user demand driving increased development and registration.
When digital fieldbus was first introduced, there were only a handful of available device types. Today, thanks to user demand, there is a wide array of available devices to fit nearly every possible application each with their own unique set of capabilities and advantages.
This same user demand has led to the Fieldbus Foundation registering more devices with more companies every single year as it outpaces itself in frequency and rate of registration every year over the last 3 years. The Fieldbus Foundation also averaged roughly 15 new member companies per year during that same period.
As one can see, not only has FOUNDATION fieldbus been growing, it has just had the highest product registration month in all of 2014, registering nearly 30 devices. In fact, digging back through data to 1998, growth of product registrations with FOUNDATION fieldbus has never declined or become flat even once.
Looking closer at the sharp increase experienced in August (the end of the red line in the chart above), the Fieldbus Foundation actually had the highest number of product re-registrations since 2001…and we’re only now entering the 4th quarter of 2014. Additionally, the Fieldbus Foundation just registered the 3rd highest number of new product registrations since its founding. At current trends, the organization is projected to see the largest number of device re-registrations and new registrations in the 20 year history of the foundation. Let that sink in for a minute.
So what do the spikes in registrations mean? Well for starters, it means there is a clear and present economic business model for FOUNDATION fieldbus that manufacturers are capitalizing on. As the world has long since entered the digital age in nearly every facet of its life, it is only natural the process industries do the same. Digital provides obvious advantages over traditional analog systems, and Fieldbus Foundation feels that user demand comes from stronger standardization in the areas that the users require it and more flexibility where the users need it.
As the usability and simplicity of FOUNDATION fieldbus continues to improve and meet the needs of the user community, growth will continue as users demand more information and better awareness from their devices to run efficient operations that make reliable high quality products.
Beyond the growth comparisons to the registration program, the Fieldbus Foundation has seen continued rise and involvement in social media across the globe. The official Fieldbus Foundation LinkedIn Group now has nearly 1,900 members and increases an average of 60 members per month. LinkedIn has shown itself to be a valuable way to communicate about FOUNDATION fieldbus installations with other industries experts. The level of interaction on each discussion post is impressive.
The @FOUNDATIONField twitter account has 1,885 followers as of this post with similar growth rates as the LinkedIn group. Twitter provides an immediate way people to interact with the organization and to read about current news and events natively on their mobile platform. Again, its the continued growth trend that illustrates user demand for FOUNDATION fieldbus.
The Fieldbus Foundation also utilizes a YouTube channel that has proven effective for spreading educational videos on FOUNDATION technology. It allows the organization to share great “how-to” videos and direct viewers to appropriate content they find useful when visual illustration is needed. For example, one of the most watched videos on the channel is a simple “how to” on wiring H1 fieldbus cable. This video alone has amassed over 16,000 minutes of viewing time. Growth in user demand for fieldbus has generated 50% more engagement in 2014 then in 2013. These numbers will continue to grow and expand as awareness of the channel increases.
The Fieldbus Foundation continues to see double digit growth across the globe and it shows in both the registration program and social conversations. Users demand smarter instruments, more efficient systems and real-time closed loop control. FOUNDATION Fieldbus helps achieve these demands, and in so doing, allows the user to make a salable product safely and reliably on-time and with minimal interruptions. If it wasn’t for this strong user demand, manufacturers wouldn’t have a feasible economic business model to continue delivering fieldbus products at unprecedented rates. It should be said that the Fieldbus Foundation shares its users enthusiasm in looks forward to closing out another successful year of growth and a record breaking year of device registrations. This is a great thing for the process industry.
It’s time we give Jim Montague over at Control Global a head nod for his recent coverage of the process fieldbuses. For those of you who have been following Jim’s writing you know he has been quite the advocate for Ethernet, but it is his most recent writings on the current state of the process industries that have been the most enlightening. “Okay, so it’s obvious that fieldbuses never went away. It turns out I was too focused on over-hyped technology trends and wasn’t paying enough attention to what was going on in the real world” said Jim.
In our current world of faster and faster processors, bigger and bigger hard drives and our unquenchable thirst to consume information, it’s easy to get caught up in the latest “sexy” new tech development that promises to be faster and better than the previous. Wireless was the sexiest new thing for a while until common sense kicked in and people started realizing that while it has some killer applications (large rotating equipment was one great example I heard), it doesn’t fit everywhere and frankly can’t be used everywhere. As with all technology, the market ultimately dictates where and how technology will be used and more often than not common sense applications drive implementation. This is the reason that Ethernet hasn’t yet grasped the process industry. It just wasn’t necessary. The killer application wasn’t there yet. FOUNDATION fieldbus’ HSE has seen slow adoption because prior to FOUNDATION for ROM, there wasn’t a strong value proposition since the increased speed alone wasn’t needed. (FOUNDATION for ROM certainly has changed the HSE landscape and a very strong value proposition exists now for HSE, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Unlike the internet service providers of the world who have to meet the demands of users streaming massive high definition video files, the process industry is a historically slow moving giant with slow moving networks. Why is that? Simple, because faster networks have just not been needed. A “large” file in the world of FOUNDATION fieldbus is a DD download of something in the neighborhood of 2 MB. In fact, did you know that the average file size of a registered FOUNDATION fieldbus DD in 2012 was 640 KB? That’s right. Kilobytes. By comparison, the average file size for a single MP3 music file is somewhere in the ballpark of 6 MB. That’s almost 10 times larger than an average DD file. Despite the obvious sufficiency of “slow” speed fieldbus networks, Ethernet seemed to be the next “sexy” tech advancement where speed and common interface connectivity would take over the industry. Jim Montague, however, seemed to come to the realization that Ethernet may just be another big uproar that doesn’t have the strong footing it might otherwise want our industry to believe. After all, is Ethernet actually addressing a user’s needs or is it an advancement for the sake of advancement?
Jim’s take on it is that while there is a lot of media buzz going on right now about Ethernet, the true work horse of the process industries quietly lumbers along at 31.25 kbps picking up project win after project win all while meeting the needs of the user today and in future expansion projects.
Jump on over and read Jim’s article on Control Global’s website called “Fieldbus Protocols Support All Processes“.
ARC is known for its list of top technologies to watch in the coming year and I am pleased to say that FOUNDATION for Remote Operations Management is mentioned on this year’s list alongside technologies such as predictive analytics and cloud computing.
IMS Research, now part of IHS, recently published a market forecast report that looked at the future of various fieldbus protocols and the growing role of Ethernet in industrial networks. That report caused quite a stir in the industry because it seemed to predict the imminent downfall of fieldbus, which would in the future be replaced with “Ethernet”. Of course, the terms “Ethernet” and “fieldbus” are not mutually exclusive, and I had some commentary and analysis of my own that you can read in this blog post.
Now, IMS research analyst Tom Moore and author of the report, has some clarifications about the IMS research findings and states the following in a recent blog post that you can read here:
“Although the research findings questioned the long-term sustainability of fieldbus in certain applications, we certainly haven’t forecast the impending doom of the technology. In fact, new fieldbus node connections will continue to grow healthily to 2016. From a recent IHS press release, “The future is strong for fieldbus, with new connections still increasing year-on-year. The growth rate for new fieldbus nodes is forecast to be just over 9 percent to 2016.”
Personally, I do not think it was the intention of IMS Research to foretell the doom of fieldbus, and if you look at the actual numbers presented in the report it does show continued growth for fieldbus over the next several years. The problem in my opinion is that people tend to latch onto the term “Ethernet” and view it as a panacea for everyone’s network requirements. Yes, many plant networks today, even FOUNDATION fieldbus HSE, are based on Ethernet. So, the discussion is not one of “fieldbus versus Ethernet”. It is rather a discussion of Ethernet and standard IP-based networks in automation versus other networks.
The somewhat manufactured controversy over “Ethernet” versus “Fieldbus” continues to rage on, albeit in a slightly weaker form. Some months ago analyst firm IMS published a report that seemingly foretold the death of “fieldbus” networks in favor of Ethernet-based protocols. The issue of fieldbus and Ethernet being mutually exclusive is tenuous at best. The FOUNDATION fieldbus specification, for example, includes H1 FOUNDATION fieldbus that operates over twisted pair wire and is designed specifically for use with process sensors and actuators. We also have HSE, which is a high speed Ethernet based network that shares the same fundamental block-based structure of H1.
Since I have a pretty extensive background in market research related to process automation, I was greatly interested in the new study results announced by IMS Research, (one of the few market research firms aside from ARC, Frost and Sullivan, and AMR/Gartner that serves the automation business). The new study examines the worldwide market for Ethernet and fieldbus technologies, and the study results have caused quite a stir in the media because they seem to predict the doom of fieldbuses in general in favor of Ethernet.
As marketing manager for one of the leading fieldbus organizations, I can tell you without a doubt that we are still experiencing double digit growth in the sales of products and services related to FOUNDATION technology, and to me the results presented by IMS Research warrant further scrutiny, so here’s what I learned about the study and their methodology.
IMS makes no distinction between fieldbuses or networks related to process automation versus discrete automation. So, the study lumps together networks covering the full spectrum from device level networks in discrete manufacturing such as AS-i, ControlNet, and PROFIBUS DP, to process automation fieldbuses such as FOUNDATION fieldbus, HART, and PROFIBUS PA. IMS also includes HART devices in the scope of the study, although it is unclear to me if they are including all HART devices sold or just those integrated with the DCS. All of these networks are categorized as “Fieldbus” networks in the IMS report.
IMS also includes all the Ethernet-based protocols, such as Ethernet/IP, EtherCAT, PROFINET, and presumably FOUNDATION HSE, categorizing all of these as “Ethernet-based” networks.
The primary method of quantifying the market for IMS’ purposes is nodes, not revenues from products and services sold. IMS defines a node as a network connection, but that definition has always been a little unclear to me. Is a node equal to a device or sensor, or does it include connections at the controller and I/O level? Counting nodes also seems to tilt things in favor of discrete networks, since you quite often have many more sensor connections in discrete applications than you do in most process applications. A discrete network needs to be able to handle a lot of not-so-complex messages very quickly from a large number of sensors. A process fieldbus has its own requirements for speed and message complexity and process control that are very different from discrete applications.
Anyway, this is the measure that IMS has chosen to use. According to this measure their research shows that fieldbuses still dominate the marketplace, accounting for a little under 75 percent of total installed nodes versus their counterparts in the Ethernet world. IMS sees “fieldbuses” accounting for less of a share of the total number of installed nodes. In 2016, IMS predicts that fieldbuses will account for a little over 69 percent of all the nodes sold.
So what IMS is really saying is that fieldbus nodes will still account for almost 70 percent of the total nodes sold in 2016 versus just under 75 percent in 2011, when you combine both the process and discrete industry sales. Shipments of both fieldbus and Ethernet networks will experience growth over the next five years, but Ethernet-based networks will experience more growth.
To me that sounds a little more reasonable than sounding the death knell for fieldbus, but you also have to keep in mind that Ethernet in and of itself does not do all the things that are required of a device network or control network. Ethernet only goes so far, and you need some kind of a protocol on top of Ethernet to get the job done, that’s why we have numerous Ethernet-based variants on the market today. The terms Ethernet and fieldbus are also not mutually exclusive, as we can see with FOUNDATION fieldbus HSE, where HSE supports the entire range of fieldbus capabilities, including standard function blocks and Device Descriptions (DDs), as well as application-specific Flexible Function Blocks (FFBs) for advanced process and discrete/hybrid/batch applications.
It is the assertion of IMS, however, that fieldbus networks are not sustainable because it take too much overhead to maintain these networks. From the press release:
“Simplifying the network can reduce company overheads through an integrated system. This is difficult to achieve with fieldbus technologies. Instead end users will usually have separate office IT divisions and a factory [sic] IT divisions. Ethernet adoption across a plant or factory provides a better environment for sharing information and a single division with responsibility for the overall network. The benefits of which are likely to be less downtime and lower overall cost.”
If it is the assertion of IMS that Ethernet-based networks are intrinsically simpler than fieldbus networks, I am not sure this is entirely true. Again, Ethernet itself does not comprise the entire network, and there are differences in Ethernet-based protocols that must be understood by the user. Waving your magic wand and making everything Ethernet does not solve your problems. Ethernet also has its limitations at the plant floor in process applications. The reason we use twisted pair as a communication medium in H1 FOUNDATION fieldbus is because it is the de facto standard for the process industries. I don’t think you are going to see Cat 5 connectors on pressure transmitters any time soon as long as there are issues surrounding bus power to devices, etc.
If you reference international standards, you will see that Ethernet/IP, Profinet, EtherCAT, HSE and others are all consider “fieldbus profiles” under IEC 61158 and IEC 61784. Ethernet is standardized as ISO 8802-3 and specify the physical layer (wire or fiber optic) and parts of the media access control (when you can transmit). And, that’s the extent of the specification. Ethernet does not describe the application (e.g. data models, services like read/write, etc).
The term fieldbus is defined in IEC 61784-3 as “communication system based on serial data transfer and used in industrial automation or process control applications” The communication system is more than just a physical layer specification. It describes the data model and data is transferred between different communication entities on the fieldbus. Some Ethernet based fieldbuses can use “off the shelf” Ethernet and other profiles require specialized equipment to achieve high performance. There are lots of choices, but each has their own consequences. And, in the end, you still need to do the engineering to see what solution best fits your application.
IMS has done some interesting research here and I can speak from personal experience that doing these studies is not easy, and someone will always want to pick apart your results. I must say that it is refreshing to see new research in this area, and we wish IMS success in the future. Just take this as constructive criticism for the future from someone who’s been there that sometimes it helps to put things in perspective.
The Fieldbus Foundation and ARC are conducting a survey on process fieldbus selection criteria, installation, and challenges associated with the implementation and operational phase of the technology. While we are interested in who is installing fieldbus and why, we also want to improve fieldbus technology and the user experience. The results of this survey will be used to improve fieldbus technology and services for the end user. All who respond to this survey will receive a consolidated copy of the results. Thanks for taking our survey!
ARC Advisory Group, the well-known manufacturing research and advisory firm based in Dedham, MA, has released a new study entitled “Fieldbus Solutions in the Process Industries: Worldwide Outlook,” which indicates FOUNDATION fieldbus continues to lead the market in digital fieldbus communications for the process industries.
According to the new ARC report, FOUNDATION fieldbus accounted for nearly three-quarters of the total digital process fieldbus marketplace in 2011. ARC also predicts ongoing expansion of the market for process fieldbus products and solutions, with continued double-digit growth over the next five years.
FOUNDATION fieldbus provides an all-digital communication infrastructure for process automation, with powerful multivariable measurement capabilities, powerful device diagnostics, and the ability to integrate wireless devices across multiple networks. The block structure of FOUNDATION fieldbus is unique, and provides true distributed functionality for implementing control in the field, improved data management, and alarm and alert management. FOUNDATION technology is well prepared to take advantage of the growth opportunities in fieldbus technology over the next decade. ARC Analyst Kevin Crisafulli said, “Fieldbus technology has made further inroads into the culture of process automation, despite the negative impact that the global recession had on the market. Manufacturers are beginning to understand that the real value of fieldbus savings and increasing efficiency are more closely related to operating expenditures, which will drive growth going forward.”
Thanks to the efforts of our supplier partners and the stringent testing & registration process at the Fieldbus Foundation, there is a wide range of products, systems, and components to choose from. With FOUNDATION fieldbus expanding into more and more application segments such as FOUNDATION for Remote Operations Management and FOUNDATION for Safety Instrumented Functions, we are easily looking at a market opportunity in the billions of dollars on an annual basis for the foreseeable future. FOUNDATION fieldbus remains the popular choice among end-users as an all-digital process automation solution that brings very positive returns to the bottom-line. The technology allows you to see your process in high definition; manage information in real time; and optimize people, processes and technology.
Frost and Sullivan has issued a new market size and forecast report for fieldbus related products and services, similar in scope to the ARC report I mentioned last week. The difference here is that the geographic scope is limited to Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, F&S reports seeing the same sustained growth in fieldbus for the process industries, particularly in Southeast Asia, where there is still a lot of grassroots activity going on. According to the news release, the fieldbus market in Southeast Asia “earned revenues of US$170.1 million in 2010 and [the report] estimates this to reach US$ 252.0 million in 2017.”
Krishnan Ramanathan, the analyst at F&S who authored the report, states that “Foundation fieldbus enables 10.0 per cent higher throughput, 30.0 per cent greater capacity without an increase in personnel and 20.0 per cent better efficiency. Plant automation projects also benefit from reductions in selection, engineering, construction as well as start-up and overhead costs.”
As mentioned in a previous post, ARC Advisory Group has released their Fieldbus Solutions in the Process Industries market size and forecast study. ARC predicts significant growth in the fieldbus market for the process industries over the next five years, driven primarily by the number of large capital projects that continue to incorporate fielbus in the emerging markets of China, India, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. You can read their whole press release here.