Standards: Process automation interoperability by 2021

Think Again: A group of end users is telling automation vendors that interoperability is needed for process automation, as explained at the ARC Forum in February. The vision is standards-based open, secure, interoperable process automation architecture commercially available by 2021. The Open Process Automation Forum is working on what’s needed and needs your help.

By Mark T. Hoske March 14, 2017

More end-user input is needed to help create an open, secure, interoperable process automation architecture, commercially available by 2021, said Don Bartusiak, ExxonMobil research and engineering chief engineer, process control, at the ARC Advisory Group 2017 ARC Forum, in February. The Open Process Automation Forum started in 2016 to address these issues, and the industry initiative has moved beyond ExxonMobil, involving 57 attendees from 30 member companies at the Nov. 16 and 17 meeting, Bartusiak said.

Companies include end users, distributed control system (DCS) vendors, hardware and software vendors, system integrators, and others. About 89% of automation companies are represented, and only about 1% of the end user companies are represented, Bartusiak said. "We need more end users." Why? "Participants can win in their next generation of DCS implementations with participation," Bartusiak suggested.

In 2010, ExxonMobil started a research and development initiative to explore replacement of the refining and chemical plant DCS fleet in use at the company within 15 years. State-of-the-art DCS won’t address business problems because of technical and commercial factors, Bartusiak said; the vision is to have standards-based, open, secure interoperable process automation architecture, commercially available and ready for use by 2021. Through the initiative, ExxonMobil:

  • In 2014, developed functional characteristics to engage industry
  • In 2015, contracted with Lockheed Martin to define functional requirements and build a prototype
  • In 2016, formed the Open Process Automation Forum to develop a standards-based, open, secure, and interoperable process control architecture fit for end-user needs, with adaptive security, and easy integration.

That means:

  • Best-in-class components; timely, leading edge performance
  • Conformant components integrated for systems that are fit-for-purpose for end user’s needs
  • Adaptive intrinsic security
  • Commercially available applications with multiple industry sectors
  • The ability to protect suppliers intellectual property
  • Portable end-user software
  • Simplified replacements; reduced lifecycle cost
  • Markets for suppliers’ and systems integrators for components and services expansion
  • Innovation and value creation. 

Prototype in early 2018

Requirements include a universal bus against which applications can draw data. The next steps are to build proof-of-concept prototype, establish standards, and build commercial systems.

On the proof of concept with Lockheed Martin, Jan. 26, 2016, was a request for information; 53 responses were received in February. Work includes trade studies, system requirements for version 1, commercial agreements, request for proposals for prototype went to 82 suppliers and system integrators on Dec. 22, 2016, with responses due by Feb. 13, 2017. Between version 1 in the first quarter 2018 and version 2 in mid 2019 will be a conformance certification program to ensure interoperability.

Five of the top 50 U.S. federal system integrators are members of the group. ExxonMobil experiences with system integrators on control system projects have been favorable, Bartusiak said.

Suppliers also will benefit from standardization by reducing systemic costs, increasing margins by specializing on differentiating advantages, and increasing revenue by expanding markets.

Forces of change include greater use of, and interest in, standards, technology, cybersecurity threats, regulations, new market entrants, customers, and substitutes for traditional technologies. 

Non-standard railroad tracks

"We’re at the point now in plant efficiency like when railroads had different track sizes. Would you accept cell phones that couldn’t communicate to other vendors?" Smartphones add considerable value through interoperable applications, Bartusiak said, not now available in process controls.

"The 20-year process control technology refresh starts now. If we only refresh every 20 years, how are we going to keep up with cybersecurity threats?" he asked.

Think again of past standards efforts; the best ones demonstrate that they must be driven by many actively participating customers to create success, Bartusiak said. Please participate.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

ONLINE extra

This online version contains more information than would fit in print. See links below including to related articles from Control Engineering. 

Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.