Response to Foundation Fieldbus and Profibus PA Cost Comparison Whitepaper

Update: This post is from originally from 2008. It recently came up in an “archived tweet” message. The “fieldbus wars” have cooled considerably in the time between the original post and now… thanks for stopping by!

ORIGINAL POST: In the early days of Foundation fieldbus back in 1996 and 1997, we used to do capital expenditure (CAPEX) comparisons of installations installing Foundation fieldbus versus what they would have cost installing conventional I/O. The savings were pretty eye opening in terms of material and labor savings, commissioning time, and control room space savings.

The big part we missed, because there hadn’t been enough run-time, was the much larger operational benefits available through abnormal situation prevention, predictive maintenance, and improved control.

I bring all this up because I found in RSS feeds recently the article, Reviewed resource: Profibus PA and Foundation Fieldbus–a cost comparison, on the Control Engineering website. The whitepaper was developed by the Profibus Trade Organization.

The focus of this study was a CAPEX look at the differences between Foundation fieldbus (FF) and Profibus PA installation. The report concluded that: Profibus PA devices are less expensive, one can fit far more PA devices on a segment than comparable FF devices, the links are less expensive, and PA is easier.

My initial reaction was not suitable for family reading, so I ran it by some folks, including Emerson fieldbus consultant Dan Daugherty, who is both a Foundation fieldbus expert and a Certified Profibus Network Engineer. His initial response to me was also not suitable for family reading, so I put the post I’d worked up aside for several days of calm reflection. So now, here we go…

One argument made was that PA devices cost less than FF devices due to extra memory and processing power needed in Ff. While not conceding that this is true, and not wishing to discuss pricing on this blog, I’ll simply say from classic economics 101, that price is determined by the market, based on the value received and not the cost to make.

I’m not sure what automation system was considered in the analysis, but the study claimed costs associated with a “linking device” in Foundation fieldbus. In systems like the DeltaV system, the FF segment connects directly to an FF input card in the I/O subsystem, as do other buses like Profibus DP, DeviceNet, and AS-i bus. A PA device cannot be directly connected to a host system, but rather must come through a linking device. In the DeltaV system, a PA device is connected through a linking device to a Profibus DP segment.

As Dan points out, this introduces increased engineering, increased maintenance, and a higher probability of failure on demand with these additional components. This impacts both capital expenditures and ongoing operational expenditures.

Another claim in the whitepaper is that more PA devices can be put on a segment than FF devices. Dan notes that since communications on a PA segment are not deterministic, to deliver the same control update period as FF, say the 400msec mentioned in the whitepaper, it must oversample and reduce the number of devices. In this 400msec case, an FF segment can run 6 control loops (12 devices.) A PA segment would need to drop from 24 to 12 devices and sample at 200msec to achieve this 400msec control update period.

Voltage drop on a bus-powered bus is also a constraint. It’s a function of the length of the segment (trunk plus spurs) and the current draw of the devices on the segment. In order to get the bus lengths typically seen in process manufacturing applications, there’s little chance of ever finding 24 devices on a segment. FF can allow 16 bus-powered devices, but the typical practical loading, constrained by voltage drop (same rules for PA) usually makes 12 devices a more typical real-world implementation. Also, typical plant practices partition segments by geographic region, process criticality, and future growth capacity, which also limit segment device counts.

The easier/less-complex claim is the biggest head scratcher. PA and FF have the same physical layer so grounding and other physical installation considerations are similar. From a device-commissioning standpoint, I’m not sure what’s easier than connecting a Foundation fieldbus device to a segment, having it automatically recognized by the system, and quickly commissioned into operation. When you have to introduce a linking device into the mix, it gets harder, not easier. Especially when there is RS-485 running on DP and bus-powered Manchester Biphase on PA, each requiring separate tools and linking devices.

This post could go on and on to discuss the operational benefits associated with Foundation Fieldbus in abnormal situation prevention, robustness, ongoing calibration savings and even autotuning within the device, but I think this is a good stopping point.

Posted Thursday, February 21st, 2008 under Foundation Fieldbus, Interoperability, Profibus.