A new approach to optimize field devices and the data collected via predictive analytics is set to revolutionize plant operations.

Field devices act as the eyes and ears of your organization. Most companies do not utilize the data collected by these devices to the fullest potential due to security reasons and also the significant effort required for collecting and analyzing it.  

However, a new concept called Safety Data Intelligence (SDI) is now emerging to enable plant operators to securely turn field device data into key insights that accelerate digitization and simplify compliance. The solution is based on the tried-and-tested Highway Addressable Remote Transducer.  

(HART) communication protocol, enhancing it with security measures compliant with Safety Integrity Level 3 (SIL 3).  

By converting sensor data into real-time diagnostic information, operators can simplify compliance, identify security vulnerabilities, and even enhance product quality. In this way, safety gets turned into added value.

Following are three examples of how this concept works: 

1. Streamlining the health of field devices  

In many instances, it is possible for an error to occur in a field device because important information that could have prevented the issue was overlooked. Perhaps your maintenance procedures are ineffective, resulting in a premature failure. Maybe the device has been allowed to stray outside of predefined parameters. Whatever the case may be, detailed error diagnostics play a key role in protecting the field device from dangerous conditions.

With SDI, field operators can securely use specific data to understand the operating conditions of field devices and implement predictive maintenance, for example. So, how does this work? While the information is not safety related, it can be used inside the safety instrumented function (SIF) logic as an independent, additional protective measure.  

An example of this in practice would be maintenance staff receiving a notification via HART that gas sensors are about to fail. Employees can take action in advance to avoid a potentially damaging failure. In this way, operators can plan for the future and benefit from predictive maintenance.

With SDI, a safety system can automatically filter warnings so that the team only receives information that is important for the safety of the plant. As a result, fewer internal resources will be required for analysis. This approach also makes it possible to recognize many parameters that would normally require additional software. 

An example of this type of factor is the heartbeat sensor integrity (HBSI) value (provided by Endress+Hauser devices) that can notify staff when maintenance is necessary. In reality, many companies do not expand their systems to cover such parameters. The tools that identify these factors are often not designed with safety in mind and must be backed up again, meaning for many operators, the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. For this reason, only a solution with integrated large-scale parameter monitoring delivers precise diagnoses. 

2. Protect field devices against unauthorized changes 

Field devices are normally configured using handheld hardware. In a conventional setup, the devices would not be connected to a safety instrumented system (SIS), but only to the asset management system (AMS). This means that field devices can be reconfigured via the AMS–without applying the necessary safety measures. Hackers could potentially access the computer that runs the configuration software and alter safety parameters. So how do operators protect against this? 

Using the special controller in conjunction with the new HART solution, operators can prevent configuration and defined parameters from being changed both externally and internally. All field devices can be monitored centrally, alerting staff to any issues or fluctuations in conditions.  

Operators could restrict data access so that only authorized personnel can use it. Issuing read and write permissions to designated staff or disabling the write function completely is another crucial area for ensuring safety at the plant. An additional key factor for security is that configurations can be managed centrally, eliminating the need for insecure handheld devices.

3. Extend maintenance intervals by optimizing proof tests 

Proof tests play a key role in safety for field devices. However, they are often time-consuming, usually requiring multiple technicians in the field and someone in the control room to check that the safety system responds correctly. Reducing resources allocated to proof tests while remaining safe is a common concern for plant operators. Companies are now looking for ways to simplify proof tests and extend intervals, thus minimizing service disruption. 


Leveraging SDI to tap the potential of digitization  

Overall, SDI is key to ensuring safety across an entire operation. In turn, businesses can act on field device data that facilitate optimal operation of any plant, reduce the burden on operations teams, and add value to the business. The goal is to maintain an accurate, up-to-date overview of the status of the plant–all of which is based on the established HART protocol.

Since existing field devices probably already support HART, implementing SIL 3 security measures to the entire plant can be easy, cost-effective, and possible.