Kenny Warren, Vice President of Engineering at ExxonMobil Research & Engineering, began his lead-off keynote address at the recent ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida with a quote from Steve Jobs: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” This relates to the company’s efforts to encourage innovation in engineering and provides insight into why ExxonMobil initiated the bold attempt to upend the industrial automation space with the Open Process Automation (OPA) initiative, first announced at the 2017 ARC Industry Forum in Orlando.
Mr. Warren followed this up with his own observation: “You never know where technology is going to lead you.” Here, he used the example of the iPhone, which began life as a very cool smartphone for consumers, but has evolved into a powerful hand-held application platform for all, including business and industry.
Next, he reiterated the vision for OPA as a standards-based, open, interoperable and secure process automation architecture, commercially available to all companies. He then explained the status of the three related activity tracks: 1. Develop a proof-of-concept, 2. Adopt appropriate industry standards, and 3. Collaboratively develop solutions and perform field trials.
Of these, the proof-of-concept prototype work performed under contract with Lockheed Martin became operational in September 2017 and is now entering the final testing stage (Forum attendees got a peek at this POC in a later session). Industry standards have been identified by the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) under the auspices of The Open Group. OPAF has grown to 17 major operating companies and almost 60 suppliers, SIs, and “Others” (such as ARC). Finally, we learned that the collaborative development and parallel field trial track will kick off later in 2018
According to Mr. Warren, the aim is to have the system technically ready for on-process use in 2021.
Why Open Process Automation Is Important
Next, Mr. Warren explained why this initiative is important to ExxonMobil (and, by extension, to many other operating companies). “We want and need to innovate our business and plant floor operations with digital technologies.” As we learned, it’s becoming increasingly critical for ExxonMobil to better leverage the huge amount of data being collected to improve analytics, identify and monetize opportunities, develop a consistent approach across time frames, and implement a common computing and visualization platform across its global fleet of assets. Mr. Warren continued, “We have a one-time opportunity to make a step change in our business. The imperative now is to increase productivity and customer satisfaction. Closed, proprietary industrial control systems have served us well until now, but the future will be more IIoT-like with more open and interoperable systems.”
He invited additional operating companies to actively participate in this largely end user-driven initiative that will ultimately benefit end users and suppliers alike.