Open Process Automation: An Update

By Harry Forbes

Industry Trends

Last month, I had an opportunity to present the Open Process Automation topic at the annual meeting of the International Business Congress (IBC), an organization of 130 companies focused on natural gas.  The “big fish” in this pond is Gazprom, the Russian state gas company, which exports huge amounts of gas to Western Europe.  The other IBC member companies are European gas utilities, Gazprom suppliers, technology providers, and financial/legal firms that support the European gas industry.  Roughly half of the 130 members are based in Russia, so the languages of the conference are Russian and English, with translations provided.

Open Process Automation Initiative Update at IBC MeetingThe keynote speaker was Alexey Miller, the CEO of Gazprom and a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Several European gas utility CEOs also spoke.  Needless to say, these folks were all big supporters of natural gas as a major component of Europe’s carbon reduction targets (gas combustion emits about half the carbon of coal combustion). Their main point was that the German policy of Energiewende (energy transition) has not yet reduced German carbon emissions.  You’d never know that from all the wind turbines and solar PV sites you see all over Germany!  However, the shutdown of nuclear plants has (to date) shifted more base-load power generation to coal.  Both GE and Siemens have introduced large new gas power plant designs that can cycle quickly (to complement intermittent renewables) and yet operate with high conversion efficiencies. However, Germany has had no absolute reduction in carbon emissions, despite energy subsidies for renewables measured in the tens of billions of euros annually.  

Open Process Automation initiative Update

Interesting material, but my reason for being at the IBC was to present and update on the Open Process Automation initiative.  I covered this topic for them about one year ago, but a lot has happened since. Here is the assessment I presented.  

There are several positive factors:

  • The program is now moving forward with an acceptable development methodology and wide participation, though wider participation would be better
  • With the development of NFV (network functions virtualization) in telecom and autonomous/smart automobiles, other industries are also advancing the technology for networked industrial automation applications
  • Industrie 4.0 and similar national initiatives are driving large investments in manufacturing automation research and development 
  • Many more end users recognize the limits of present-day DCS 
  • There are also several negative factors that may delay or inhibit the success of this program:
  • It greatly disrupts the existing and long-standing DCS supplier business model, though the Open Process Automation Forum recognizes this challenge and is trying to address it
  • There remains uncertainty about the suitability of FACE technology/business for process automation markets and applications, though the prototype development program should provide insight into this
  • Open Process Automation Forum schedule remains likely to slip further, although the Forum has taken steps to gain visibility and (sooner or later) gain control of its own schedule
  • As I have discussed in the past, many other large and related development programs are taking place at the same time, and this is both an opportunity and a risk

The next ARC Orlando Forum (February 12-15, 2018) will feature a detailed update on the Open Process Automation Forum and related industrial automation developments. This session was packed in 2017.  It’s not too early to pencil in these date and plan to meet with ARC in Orlando next February. 

Because my IBC presentation was being translated into Russian as I spoke, it seemed wise to write the whole thing down rather than speak extemporaneously (and less precisely) from slides.  So, I did write it all down, and if you want to read the presentation as a paper, you can get a copy of the whole thing:

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