A Look at ABB’s New Select I/O

By Larry O'Brien

Several ARC analysts, including me, attended ABB’s Customer World event in Houston last week at the George R Brown Convention Center.  Customer World (you may remember it from its old name Automation and Power World) is arguably the largest user group meeting among all the automation suppliers, attracting around 8,000 people from around the world from all aspects of the company’s business from power transmission and distribution to process automation, motors and drives, and more. 

ABB chose Customer World to announce a range of new offerings, from the Ability cloud to new approaches to process automation systems and systems engineering.  One of the most anticipated new releases was ABB Process Automation’s release of the new Select I/O, a modular single point I/O solution that brings the company’s 800xA process automation and safety systems in the new generation of systems that were inspired by the ExxonMobil “It Just Happens” initiative, which demands extreme modularity, reduced cost, reduced footprint, and automating of many of the functions in the design and application of process systems that were previously highly customized. 

A Modular Solution

ARC puts the new approaches to intelligent single point I/O into two categories: characterizable and configurable.  Configurable I/O is, as the name suggests, software configurable.  Characterizable I/O includes hardware modules that plug into a rack and can represent analog input, analog output, digital input, digital output, etc.  The type of module plugged into the rack determines the type of signal.  Modules can be plugged anywhere in the rack and are location independent.  This is the approach of Select I/O, where each signal coming from the field is conditioned individually with a Signal Conditioning Modules (SCMs) available for both process and safety requirements.  The process and safety SCM modules can coexist in the same standard cabinets, but safety I/O must be installed in its own segregated “blocks”, separate from process I/O.  The new I/O modules also have lots of interesting features to lock modules in place, deactivate them in place for maintenance purposes, keyed terminal blocks, and other features for easy and secure removal, replacement, and maintenance of the I/O system components and power supplies. 

Standard Cabinets

ABB also offers standard cabinets with Select I/O, which can be a real-time saver on projects and can significantly reduce cost.  As the ExxonMobil “It Just Happens” initiative states, too much time is spent on custom design and engineering of cabinets.  A standard, modular I/O solution like Select I/O means you can also use standard cabinets, whether they be in the control room or in the form of field mounted junction boxes, which are becoming an increasingly popular option for these new types of I/O. 

Network Capabilities and Other Features

Select I/O features an Ethernet Fieldbus Communication Interface (FCI) with embedded redundant switches.  It also features extended temperature ratings of -40 to 70 degrees Celsius, making it a good fit for placement in field junction boxes in extreme environments where previously it may not have been possible to place controllers and I/O.  The SCMs also feature galvanic isolation per channel, and each SCM is current limited.  End users can fit up to 192 SCMs for each Ethernet I/O cluster, and it is possible to mix ABB’s conventional S800 I/O in the same system as Select I/O.  SCMs also support the HART protocol for intelligent device diagnostics. 

Select I/O SCM Modules Available for Both Process and SIL3 Safety Applications

Electronic Marshalling Concepts

It’s also worth mentioning the “electronic marshalling” concepts behind Select I/O.  Since each SCM is plugged into a standard backplane that’s connected to an Ethernet I/O module, the signals from each individual channel can be made available to any controller on the control network.  This effectively breaks down barriers to the way information is shared in the system at the most basic level, and that also facilitates the “late binding” concept where the design and engineering of the system can be completely virtualized, with the “virtual” system being paired to the physical system at the last possible moment. 

xStream Engineering

The virtualization of the system and late binding concepts allows for new approaches to system engineering and even field device commissioning, factory acceptance testing, and more.  We will look into these concepts, which ABB refers to as xStream engineering, in the next blog post. 

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