11 - Won’t Fieldbus stifle innovation?

Since digital communication was first introduced in process control, manufacturers have been forced to adapt their products to a myriad of protocols as they emerge. A standard Fieldbus has relieved device manufacturers from this task. Once again they can concentrate on true innovations such as sensing techniques getting higher accuracy, reliability, stability to ambient effects, and transmitters for multiple variables.

Fieldbus is a performance specification. This means product developers have maximum choice over how they implement it into products. Fieldbus device manufacturers can select from the microprocessor, programming language and methods of their choice. This can greatly streamline the product development process, and production costs.

A single common Fieldbus will spur third party software and other accessories, as the market for a given product would be larger, providing an economy of scale factor justifying product development. More software and accessories will make Fieldbus more attractive contributing to the proliferation.

Fieldbus will just be another requirement in an already long list of standards specified by instrument buyers, essential when it comes to putting the pieces of a plant together, and being able to make replacements:

  • Temperature sensors;
  • Process connection;
  • Electrical connection;
  • Calibration;
  • Fieldbus;
  • Cleaning for oxygen service;
  • Environmental conditions testing;
  • Intrinsic safety;
  • Material grades;

Some have forgotten the beauty of standards and have take all the benefits of standardization for granted so much so that we even argue if they are good or not. The question is if the industrialized society could function if it was not for the thousands of standards making it tick. Could we even imagine going back to a time where a bolt and a nut from different shops do not fit together? If they were not for standards a lot of things in our lives would not work e.g. bolts and nuts. Standardization of measures, screws etc. is the very foundation on which engineering rests.

The situation we have now when new protocols show up every day is in a way hampering development because nobody dare to chose. Lack of standardization, new protocols coming up, instrument manufacturers and control software manufacturers has been tracking a moving target.

Standards are especially in the USA criticized for stifling development. However, standards actually enables true innovation rather than just coming up with many new solutions for the same problem already solved. Once a standard has been laid down, enough people are willing to buy products based on it providing a large enough market for new ideas based on the technology in the standard. Manufacturers now dare to spend money developing a new product making use of the standard, knowing the standard will not change so soon.

Investing in development based on somebody else's proprietary technology is a great risk, manufacturers at the mercy of the technology owner never know if there will be a new version out the next month rendering their development efforts useless.

As an example, the technology to make multiple variable transmitters and control and computation in the field has been around for a long time, but it has basically been pointless before Fieldbus because only with the interoperability that Fieldbus provides is it possible to make good use of it.

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