June 2018


Automation Strategies: Open process automation moves to the proof-of-concept stage

Open process automation was once again a hot topic at the 2018 ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida earlier this year.

Miller, Paul, Forbes, H., ARC Advisory Group

Open process automation was once again a hot topic at the 2018 ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida earlier this year. Among the highlights was a session focusing on the status of several open process automation initiatives in progress. The session featured the first public presentation on ExxonMobil’s proof-of-concept demonstration project.

“Moving beyond the art of possibilities”

David DeBari, Prototype Lead Engineer for the open process automation program at ExxonMobil, worked closely with teams at LockheedMartin and other companies to develop a prototype proof-of-concept system based on the architecture envisioned by ExxonMobil and the industry standards identified by the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF), a forum of The Open Group.

DeBari explained that the objective of the proof-of-concept project was to demonstrate the feasibility of the architecture to deliver targeted multivendor interoperability through standards (without resorting to gateways or translators), interchangeability to enable components to be individually and freely replaced between vendors (without having to modify the underlying logic), configuration and application portability, and application development flexibility.

Running proof-of-concept system. DeBari then presented a series of slides that showed how these objectives were met in the proof-of-concept system controlling a simulated natural draft fired heater. The team chose this process due to its widespread use in process industries, the many proportional-integral-derivative (PID) control loops involved and the need for constraint controls.

Proof-of-concept passes stress tests. As part of the stress testing for the proof-of-concept, the team broke the control application into multiple parts and distributed these over a dozen different data control networks (DCN). According to DeBari, the control still worked flawlessly.

Moving forward? Looking to the next step—or, as DeBari succinctly put it, “What now?”—the proof-of-concept must move to an on-process pilot project after demonstrating the desired characteristics on a simulated process. The move is expected to happen later this year.

FIG. 1. Running proof-of-concept system. Source: ExxonMobil.

ExxonMobil has already identified an internal site for this pilot, and is encouraging other operating companies to join and actively participate in the OPAF activities. ExxonMobil is also urging other operators to initiate additional OPAF development efforts, pilots and field trials, ideally across a variety of different industries. The goal is to initiate field trials of pioneer applications in 2020 and achieve full technical readiness in 2021.

Following the success of the OPAF proof-of-concept project, ARC encourages end-user organizations across the process industries to learn more about the initiative and, if deemed appropriate for their applications, to both join the OPAF as a member and to participate in the upcoming on-process field trials. These activities will provide a head start toward achieving a long-term resolution to the chronic system obsolescence issues faced by many process manufacturers, and will influence the direction of this developing technology. 

While the open process automation concept challenges the existing business models of many process automation and technology suppliers, it also offers numerous opportunities. HP

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