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Basics of Smart Transmitters

Smart Transmitters are advancement over conventional analog transmitters. They


contain microprocessors as an integral unit within the device. These devices have
built-in diagnostic ability, greater accuracy (due to digital compensation of sensor
nonlinearities), and the ability to communicate digitally with host devices for reporting
of various process parameters.
The most common class of smart transmitters incorporates the HART protocol.
HART, an acronym for Highway Addressable Remote Transducer, is an industry
standard that defines the communications protocol between smart field devices and a
control system that employs traditional 4-20 mA signal.
Parts of a Smart Transmitter:
To fully understand the main components of a smart transmitter, a simplified block
diagram of the device is shown below:

Fig A Block Diagram of a Smart Transmitter


The above block diagram is further simplified to give the one below:

Fig B Simplified Block Diagram of a Smart Transmitter

As shown above in fig A, the smart transmitter consists of the following basic parts:
A)
B)
C)
D)

Process Sensor
An Analog to Digital Converter(ADC)
A Microprocessor
A Digital to Analog Converter(DAC)

These basic parts can be organized into three basic sections as shown in fig B:
A) Input Section
B) Conversion Section
C) Output Section
Input Section:
The input section comprises the process sensor or transducer and the Analog to
Digital Converter (ADC). The sensor measures the process variable of interest (be it
pressure, temperature, flow etc) which is then converted into a proportional electrical
signal. The measured electrical signal is then transformed to a digital count by the
Analog to Digital Converter (ADC). This digital count, representative of the process
variable (PV), is then fed into the conversion section which contains the
microprocessor.
However, the microprocessor must rely upon some form of equation or algorithm to
relate the raw count value of the electrical measurement to the actual process
variable (PV) of interest such as temperature, pressure, or flow. The principal form of
this algorithm is usually established by the manufacturers of the smart transmitters,
but most HART transmitters include commands to perform field adjustments. This
type of adjustment is often referred to as a sensor trim. The output of the input
section is a digital representation of the process variable (PV).
When you read the process variable using a hand held field communicator, this is the
value that you see
Conversion Section:
This section contains a microprocessor whose basic function is a mathematical
conversion from the process variable to the equivalent mA representation of the
process. Closely connected to the microprocessor is the memory where the setup,
configuration and diagnostic data of the transmitter are stored. The range values of
the transmitter (related to the zero and span values) are used in conjunction with a
transfer function to calculate this mA value. A linear transfer function is the most
common, although pressure transmitters, may have a square root option. Still many
other forms of transfer functions can be used with the processors or can be user
defined. The output of the conversion section (PVAO) is a digital representation of

the desired transmitter output. When you read the loop current using a hand held
field communicator, this is the value that you see. Note that many HART transmitters
support a command which puts the instrument into a fixed output test mode. This
overrides the normal output of the conversion section and replaces it with a specified
output value.
Output Section:
In this section, the calculated mA value representing the process variable is fed into a
Digital to Analog Converter, where the mA value is converted into the actual analog 4
20mA electrical signal. Note once again that the microprocessor must rely on some
internal calibration factors to get the correct value of this output. Adjusting these
calibration factors is often referred to as a current loop trim or 4-20 mA trim.
As can be seen from the above discussion, the only similarity between the
conventional analog transmitter and a smart transmitter is the process sensor that
measures and converts the physical process variable into a corresponding electrical
signal. Shown below is a simplified block diagram of a conventional analog
transmitter:

Instead of a purely mechanical or electrical path between the input and the resulting
4-20 mA output signal as obtain in conventional analog transmitters, a smart
transmitter using the HART protocol has a microprocessor that manipulates the
process data.
Based on the analysis above, it should now be clear that the calibration procedure for
a conventional analog transmitter is very different from that of a smart HART
transmitter. While Zero and Span calibration is sufficient to make the analog
transmitter perform within the manufacturers stated specifications; that of smart
transmitters involve the calibration of either the input or output sections or both
depending on the application. Zero and Span calibration for a smart transmitter is
insufficient to make the device work within the stated performance accuracy
documented by the manufacturers.

How to Calibrate Smart Transmitters


In our last discussion: Introduction to Smart Transmitters, we have seen that a smart
transmitter is remarkably different from that of a conventional analog transmitter.
Consequently the calibration methods for both devices are also very different.
Remember that calibration refers to the adjustment of an instrument so its output
accurately corresponds to its input throughout a specified range. Therefore a true
calibration requires a reference standard, usually in the form of one or more pieces of
calibration equipment to provide an input and measure the resulting output.

The procedure for calibrating a smart digital transmitter is known as Digital trimming.
A digital trim is a calibration exercise that allows the user to correct the transmitters
digital signal to match plant standard or compensate for installation effects. Digital
trim in a smart transmitter can be done in two ways:
A) A Sensor Trim: It consist of matching the process variable (be it pressure,
level, flow or temperature) reading of the transmitter to a precision input. This
process normally involves trimming the digital circuit of the input Analog-toDigital converter in the smart transmitter.
B) A 4 20mA or Current Loop Trim: This is done by trimming the output Digitalto-Analog converter in the transmitter.
Actions That Do Not Constitute Proper Calibration in Smart Transmitters
Before we discuss in detail what constitute a proper calibration, let us mention certain
common practice that are not proper calibrations:
A) Changing the range (LRV and URV) of a smart transmitter constitute a
configuration change and not a calibration. This range change merely affects
the mathematical computation done by the microprocessor. It has no effect on
the digital process variable as read by a hand-held digital communicator.
B) Using only the zero and span adjustments to calibrate a smart transmitter
often corrupts the internal digital readings. You may not notice this if you dont
use a hand-held digital communicator to read the range or digital process
data.
C) Using a hand-held digital communicator to adjust the current loop so that an
accurate input to the transmitter agrees with some readout device on the loop
does not constitute a proper calibration.
Procedure for Calibrating a Smart Transmitter:
To do a proper calibration on a smart transmitter will involve both a sensor trim
and/or a 4 20m A trim depending on the application where the transmitter is being
used. A smart transmitter typically has high and low trim functions which unlike the

zero and span adjustments of an analog transmitter, are non-interactive. That is


adjusting the high trim function has no effect on the low trim function and vice versa.
Before proceeding to the section below note that a smart transmitter has three
outputs which must be clearly understood:
A) Digital Process Variable (PV) usually read by a hand-held communicator
B) Digital Value of the output current in mA (PVAO) which the communicator also
reads.
C) The analog 4 20mA signal output which can be read with a suitable
milliammeter but cannot be read by the digital hand-held communicator. If they
are not clearly understood please see: Introduction to Smart Transmitters for a
clearer understanding.

For the smart transmitter to be properly calibrated, the error between the applied
input to the transmitter and the digital output (PV) must be within the error
specification of the manufacturer otherwise a sensor trim will be required to correct
this. Similarly, the error between the digital milliamp value (PVAO) and the analog
mA value must be within the error specification of the manufacturer otherwise a 4
20m A trim is required.
Performing a Sensor Trim:
Before performing a sensor trim, run a test, commonly referred to as the AS-FOUND
TEST to confirm the consistency of the sensor and the input Analog-to-Digital
converter. Connect the test setup as shown below:

Use a precision calibrator to measure the applied input to the transmitter. Read the
resulting output (PV) with a handheld communicator. Calculate the resulting error

between the applied input and the output (PV) since both are in the same
engineering units. Note that the desired accuracy for this test will be the
manufacturers accuracy specification. If this test does not pass, then follow the
manufacturers recommended procedure for trimming the sensor. Below are general
guidelines for performing a sensor trim:
A)
B)
C)
D)

Apply the lower-range value stimulus to the transmitter, wait for it to stabilize
Execute the low sensor trim function
Apply the upper-range value stimulus to the transmitter, wait for it to stabilize
Execute the high sensor trim function

Stimulus as used here should be understood to mean the process variable input to
the transmitter.
Performing a 4 20mA Trim:
Before performing a 4 20mA trim, run a test, commonly referred to as the ASFOUND TEST to confirm the consistency of the output Digital-to-Analog converter
and the analog output of the transmitter. This procedure may also be called a 4-20
mA trim, a current loop trim, or a Digital-to-Analog converter trim. Connect the test
setup as shown below:

Use a hand-held digital communicator to put the smart transmitter into a fixed current
output mode. The input value for this test is the mA value that you instruct the
transmitter to produce. The output value is obtained using a precision milliammeter to
measure the resulting current. Calculate the error between the digital mA value
produced by the transmitter and the analog mA value measured by the current meter.
The desired accuracy for this test should also reflect the manufacturers accuracy
specification. If the test does not pass, then follow the manufacturers recommended
procedure for trimming the output section. The trim procedure should require two trim
points close to or just outside of 4mA and 20 mA. Do not confuse this with any form
of re-ranging or any procedure that involves using zero and span buttons on the
transmitter. Below are the general guidelines for performing a 4 20mA trim:

A) Execute the low output trim test function on the transmitter.


B) Measure the output signal with a precision milliammeter, noting the value after
it stabilizes
C) Enter this measured current value when prompted by the transmitter
D) Execute the high output trim test function
E) Measure the output signal with a precision milliammeter, noting the value after
it stabilizes
F) Enter this measured current value when prompted by the transmitter
After both the input and output (ADC and DAC) of a smart transmitter have been
trimmed (i.e. calibrated against standard references known to be accurate), the
lower- and upper-range values (LRV and URV) may be set. In fact, once the trim
procedures are complete, the transmitter may be ranged and ranged again as many
times as desired. The only reason for re-trimming a smart transmitter is to ensure
accuracy over long periods of time where the sensor and/or the converter circuitry
may have drifted out of acceptable limits. The situation is very different in an analog
transmitter, where reranging necessitates re-calibration.
Transmitter Damping:
Many HART transmitters support a parameter called damping. If this is not set to
zero, it can have an adverse effect on tests and adjustments. Damping induces a
delay between a change in the transmitter input and the detection of that change in
the digital value for the transmitter input reading and the corresponding output value.
It is advisable to adjust the transmitters damping value to zero prior to performing
tests or adjustments. After calibration, be sure to return the damping constant to its
required value.

Basics of Smart Pressure Transmitter Calibration:


Calibration is the process of optimizing transmitter accuracy over a specific range by
adjusting the factory sensor characterization curve located in the microprocessor.
Calibrating a smart transmitter is different from calibrating an analog transmitter. The
one-step calibration process of an analog transmitter is done in several steps with a
smart transmitter. These calibration steps involved are:
A) Re-ranging - Re-ranging involves setting the lower and upper range points (4
and 20 mA) points at required pressures. Re-ranging does not change the
factory sensor characterization curve.
B) Analog Output Trim - This process adjusts the transmitters analog
characterization curve to match the plant standard of the control loop.
C) Sensor Trim - This process adjusts the position of the factory characterization
curve to optimize the transmitter performance over a specified pressure range
or to adjust for mounting effects. Trimming has two steps, zero and sensor
trims.
Factory Characterization Curve of Pressure Transmitter.
The characterization of a smart transmitter allows for permanent storage of reference
information. In the factory setup, known pressures are applied and the transmitter
stores information about these pressures and how the pressure sensor reacts to
these pressure changes. This creates a transfer function of applied pressures versus
output shown below:

It is then possible to range the pressure transmitter based on the initial


characterization information simply by entering the desired span end points through a
hand-held HART communicator. This moves the span end points along the known
characterization curve of the transmitter.
To understand why several calibration steps are required for a smart pressure
transmitter, let us see how data flows within the transmitter.
How Data Flow Inside the Smart Pressure Transmitter.
Smart transmitters operate differently than analog transmitters. A smart transmitter
uses a microprocessor that contains information about the sensors specific
characteristics in response to pressure and temperature inputs. A smart transmitter
compensates for these sensor variations. The diagram below shows the flow of data
within the smart pressure transmitter in four basic steps:

1.
2.

3.
4.

A change in pressure is measured by a change in the sensor output (Sensor


Signal)
The sensor signal is converted to a digital format that can be understood by
the microprocessor. This conversion is done by the Analog-to-Digital Signal
Converter section(A/D) within the transmitter circuitry. Sensor trim functions
affect this value.
Corrections are performed in the microprocessor to obtain a digital
representation of the process input (Digital PV).
The Digital PV is converted to an analog value by the Digital-to-Analog Signal
Converter section(D/A). Re-ranging and Analog trim functions affect this value.

Choosing the Right Trim Procedure for the Pressure Transmitter


To decide which trim procedure to use, you must first determine whether the analogto-digital section(A/D) or the digital to-analog section(D/A) of the transmitter
electronics need calibration. To do so, perform the following procedure:

Choosing the right sensor trim procedure


1.
2.
3.
4.

5.

Connect a pressure source, a HART communicator, and a digital readout


device to the pressure transmitter.
Establish communication between the transmitter and the communicator.
Apply pressure equal to the upper range point pressure (150 inH20, for
example).
Compare the applied pressure to the Process Variable (PV) line on the
Communicator on-line display menu. IF the PV reading on the communicator
does not match the applied pressure (with high-accuracy test equipment), then
the transmitter requires a SENSOR TRIM
Compare the Analog Output (AO) line on the communicator on-line menu to
the digital readout device. IF the AO reading on the communicator does not
match the digital readout device, then the pressure transmitter requires an
OUTPUT TRIM. See How to calibrate Smart Transmitters for a detailed
equipment setup on choosing the right sensor trim

Smart Pressure Transmitter Calibration - Sensor Trim Basics

In pressure transmitter calibration, sensor trim can be performed using either sensor
or zero trim functions. Both trim functions alter the transmitters interpretation of the
input signal. Also analog output trim is required to calibrate the output section of the
transmitter.
Zero Trim
Zero trim is a single-point adjustment. It is useful for compensating for mounting
position effects and is most effective when performed with the transmitter installed in
its final mounting position. Zero trim should not be used in place of a sensor trim over
the full sensor range. When performing a zero trim, ensure that the equalizing valve
is open and all wet legs are filled to the correct levels.
Sensor Trim
Sensor trim is a two-point sensor calibration where two end-point pressures are
applied, and all output is linearized between them. It allows the user to select low trim
and high trim end point values to provide a digital calibration over the required
measurement range. The low trim value is always adjusted first as it determines the
offset or zero adjustment to the characterization curve by correcting all points along
the curve equally.
For example, suppose a negative 150inH2O has been applied to a pressure
transmitter with a highly accurate pressure source, and the process variable reading
shows negative 152inH2O. If corrections are made using the low trim procedure, the
characterization curve can be adjusted so that the digital process variable will match
the input. The effect of this trim is that the entire characterization curve shifts the
same amount at every point.

The high trim value determines the span or slope adjustment to the characterization
curve based on the low trim value. These values should never be changed without a
highly accurate pressure source. The graph below shows a high value trim correction
based on the low trim adjustment made in the example above:

As seen above, the high trim value has been set at 150in H2O. This has the effect of
altering the slope of the characterization curve from the low point to the high point.

The trim values (low and high) allow the transmitter performance to be optimized
over a specified measuring range at the calibration temperature.
Analog Output Trim
This process adjusts the transmitters current output at the 4 and 20 mA points to
match the plant standards. The analog output trim procedure requires an accurate
current meter and is used to match the transmitters analog output to the loop
readout meter. It is essentially a calibration of the output electronics of the smart
pressure transmitter.