By Gregory Hale
An initiative started two years ago focused on open process automation is gaining more steam and moving forward to the point where they are getting into the collaborating and developing field trials with operating companies.

“We want to innovate our operations,” said Ken Warren, vice president engineering at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering during his keynote presentation at the ARC Advisory Group Industry Forum 2018 in Orlando, FL, this week. “You never know where innovation is going to take you.”

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Some of the companies selected to start off with the initiative are ABB, ANSYS, AspenTech, Inductive Automation, Intel, Nxtcontrol, R. Stahl, RTI, Schneider Electric, and Wind River.

ExxonMobil kicked off the industry initiative looking at the next evolution of open system security and process control.

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What ExxonMobil said two years ago was the industry needed to change – and change fast. While it would be easy for the naysayers to say it will never happen, there has been considerable movement toward the initiative.

The initiative came about because automation users ended up locked into an industrial automation vendor’s system architecture. What ExxonMobil wants to do – with the help of other industry end users – is to do away with proprietary, closed systems and convert them to multi-vendor automation system, making hardware a more plug and play environment. They are pushing for a multi-vendor interoperable system that is a standards-based, open, secure, and interoperable architecture, with commercially available software and hardware components. ExxonMobil is using integrator Lockheed Martin to help shepherd the initiative because it has experience with these types of systems from its other business and engineering activities.

In addition, a new organization formed last year called the Open Process Automation Forum, which focuses on a standards-based, open, secure, interoperable process control architecture. The forum is a consensus-based group of end users, system integrators, suppliers, academia, and standards organizations. It addresses technical and business issues for process automation.

The goal is to have a commercially available system to be up and running by 2021, he said.
The problem is with entrenched DCSs anchoring facilities across the globe, an update just does not cut it. Instead, users need to reap the benefits of new technologies that can take advantage of any technological advances.

Acting as a backbone to the entire open system concept, new security models are emerging to enable more secure data flow between the operations technology and the IT side.

Today, 75 end users and suppliers are part of the Forum, Warren said.

The next move for the initiative is to have collaborative development and parallel field trials this year with end users Praxair, Coke, Georgia Pacific and Dow, Warren said.

“We know Exxon alone cannot do this alone – there needs to be help,” Warren said. “We can make a step change and move to solve a problem. This will lead to a more efficient marketplace.”

In addition, he said, “It will lead to a more open, secure platform.”

While this could hurt hardware suppliers, the real move, and opportunity, is toward software and services.

Benefits, Warren said, for end users shows the initiative would:
• Support reuse of control system applications
• Increase value creation
• Enable continuous innovation
• Solve system integration issues
• Make it safe and intrinsically secure
• Empower workforce
• Reduce total cost of ownership

For suppliers, he said, the benefits would show it could:
1. Grow the top line by:
— Reaching new markets and customer
— Remain relevant to existing customers
— Create new goods and services for expanded markets

2. It could grow the bottom line by:
— Increasing margins
— Reducing costs

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