EIF 2023 Review - Open Process Automation for Users

Author photo: Valentijn de Leeuw
ByValentijn de Leeuw
Industry Trends

ARC’s European Industry Forum, part of the successful series of worldwide conferences in Europe, America and Asia, has been held in Sitges (Barcelona), Spain on May 15 - 17, 2023. The event offered exclusive presentations and workshops on strategies and case studies in line with this year’s topic “Managing Industry Evolution in Times of Global Disruption” to its 160 international participants from 20 countries.

Open Process Automation (OPA) Session for users

The Open Process Automation (OPA) Session for users provided a platform for users to testify about their OPA applications and plans. This session complemented the workshop organized by the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) on the forum. The interest in the topic was very high and drew many participants.

OPA @ ExxonMobil

Mohan Kalyanaraman kicked off the session with an overview of OPA at ExxonMobil. Mr Kalyanaraman framed the initiative as part of an innovative response to many challenges, and in particular the energy transition.

  • Emerging process technologies
  • Remote locations and widely dispersed assets
  • Lower carbon footprint while increasing profitability.
  • Workforce evolution and supply chain disruptions

Secure, robust, scalable, and cost-effective standards-based solutions are seen as an opportunity for the required innovation, in particular open systems, flexible architectures, smart apps, and intrinsic cyber security are sought-after qualities to realize the vision for process automation at ExxonMobil vision.  The company sets the following objectives:

  • Increased supplier competition
  • Reduced barriers to new technology
  • Lower integration and lifecycle costs
  • Reuse control applications across systems
  • Secure and adaptable by design

ARC notes that increased competition and lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of control systems, would increase the rate of implementation and the total number of potential projects, many of which are delayed or not funded today.

The OPAF, with a broad representation of suppliers and users, is the vehicle to realize a commonly accepted standard, and enable shared learning among users, integrators and suppliers.  The current version of the standard (O-PAS™) addresses interoperability, configuration portability and control functionality.  O-PAS builds as much as possible on existing standards, and collaborates with other relevant standards in progress, such as NAMUR’s MTP and NOA.

The progress since 2016 included the creation of OPAF, proof of concepts in lab and pilot plants, test beds, and the latest testbed prepares for the first field implementation.  The latter will provide DCS and PLC functionality based on commercially available products compliant with O-PAS v2.1, with approximately 2500 I/O and 90  control loops operated using a single station.  The startup commences in 2023 with project close out in 2024 and ExxonMobil plans to share the learnings from the project.

OPA @ Shell

Jacco Opmeer, Principal Automation Engineer at Shell Global Solutions, explained Shell’s strategy in migrating towards O-PAS.  Focus is twofold, brownfield installations are being connected to O-PAS compliant systems using gateways via the O-PAS Communication Framework (OCF).  Secondly, O-PAS-native greenfield installations are built focusing on interoperability, scalability, and modularity.  In Shell’s test system, both scenarios are tested, and a connection is established between the brownfield and greenfield O-PAS instance. After the connection is made, some of the traditional applications are going to be moved over to O-PAS compliant Decentral Control Nodes (DCN), and other applications are moved to the Advanced Control Platform.

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Description automatically generated Shell test system (Source: Shell)

This year, Shell aims to continue testing and preferably add certified products, validating maturity to use the O-PAS systems in future Shell projects. Part of the testing program is to apply the IEC 61449 based Control Runtime, which is being managed by UniversalAutomation.org and determine applicability.  As the Runtime enables the interoperability between different control nodes, it is expected this is the case. 

The company further plans to progress on information and data standards, as well as reference architectures.  The latter are useful as templates to generate specific architectures from. Shell also intends to collaborate with industry partners on life cycle migration based on the O-PAS standard. In 2024 and beyond, Shell plans to implement systems based using certified products.

A diagram of a computer system

Description automatically generated with low confidencePhase 2 in Shell’s testing program: moving applications to DCNs in the control and application layers (Source: Shell).

OPA @ Cargill

Dominic de Kerf from Cargill, sees the decreasing life cycles of hardware, operating systems, software, and automation application as a challenging increase in complexity for owner-operators.  At the same time requirements for automation hardware, software and architectures, are more demanding than ever:

  • Classic engineering requirements remain (safety, security, determinism, etc.)
  • Zero scheduled maintenance downtime (!)
  • Serviceable systems throughout their lifetime
  • Lowest possible TCO (including lowest risk, downtime, lead time, effort, parts)
  • High agility

These goals can only be approached through innovation, in particular by undoing rigidity from the past (vendor lock-in, custom interfaces, incompatibilities, difficulties to change and upgrade) and replace them by standards-based, interoperable, interchangeable and agile modular systems, where software and functions are decoupled from infrastructure (hardware). The journey towards the goals requires commitment and engagement, as well as time, focus and resources.