End Users Share Perspectives on Open Process Automation at ARC Forum Asia

Author photo: Sharada Prahladrao
By Sharada Prahladrao


The Open Process Automation (OPA) session flagged off the virtual ARC Industry Forum Asia on July 13, 2021, titled Accelerating Digital Transformation in a Post-COVID World. Don Bartusiak, President Collaborative Systems Integration (CSIA) and Co-chair Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) introduced the O-PAS (Open Process Automation Standard), highlighted the work being done in the business ecosystem and conformance certification. Against this backdrop, end user companies spoke about industrial control systems based on the O-PAS that is described as a “standard of standards.”

The current drive for OPA began at ExxonMobil, where a huge number of older and obsolete distributed control systems (DCS) installations needed to be replaced, and ExxonMobil leadership began questioning the “closed control systems” approach. In 2016, the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) that operates under the auspices of the Open Group was formed. The OPAF is comprised of end users, suppliers, standards organizations, system integrators, and consultancies. The business objective of the OPAF is to reduce capital and lifecycle costs and achieve greater profitability from investments in control systems.

Session Speakers: David DeBari, Process Control Engineer, ExxonMobil and Mohan Kalyanaraman, Technology Acquisition Advisor, Strategic Planning, ExxonMobil Research & Engineering; Abdullah Alkhalifa, Sr. Engineering Consultant, Process & Control Systems, Saudi Aramco; Divyang Shah, Group Lead – Instrument Reliability in Center of Excellence, Instrument Department, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) and  Hetal Karia, Lead Control Systems – Cluster Instrument Jamnagar super site, Instrument Department, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL); Sharul Rashid, Group Technical Authority, Instrument & Control, PETRONAS; and John Kirkman, CEO, Enterprise Transformation Partners. ARC Advisory Group’s Harry Forbes, Research Director, Automation, moderated this session.

Recent Advances in O-PAS

A significant milestone was achieved in May of this year when Version 2.1 of the O-PAS was published, said Don Bartusiak. Where possible and applicable, the O-PAS embraces existing industry standards for industrial automation systems. This was illustrated by a chart showing the part breakdown of the O-PAS, the subject matter, and referenced standards that are incorporated in O-PAS.  These documents are publicly available on the Open Group’s website and industry feedback on the O-PAS is encouraged. Another key event in terms of testing the utility of this standard is the Interoperability Workshop (PlugFest) planned for the third quarter 2021. Currently, O-PAS Version 3 is being drafted and the themes are: application portability (Part 8), Distributed Control Node physical platform (Part 7), orchestration (OPAF members sometimes call this “systemness”) (Part 9).

Business Ecosystem Building

The Business Working Group within OPAF focuses on the aspect of building a business ecosystem using the standard. The first version of the OPA Business Guide was published in 2019 and the team is working on Version 2.0. This Guide provides valuable information about business scenarios across various industry verticals, stakeholder roles in the O-PAS ecosystem, conformance, certification, and contracting processes. The OPAF liaises with other standard organizations, such as the OPC Foundation, NAMUR, CSIA, ISA, etc. In conclusion, Mr. Bartusiak outlined the certification policy process published in February 2020, the discussions with multiple O-PAS verification labs, and the Certification Wave 1 that will become operational in the first quarter of 2022.  

End User Perspectives


David DeBari shared ExxonMobil’s recent prototyping efforts related to the company’s OPA program to inspire other organizations to learn more about OPA and conduct proof-of-concepts, prototypes, and field trials of this technology and architecture. ExxonMobil helped establish the OPA in 2016 with end users, suppliers, and other interested parties. Today, the OPAF has over 100 members. The goal is to provide a standards-based, open, secure, and interoperable process control architecture that provides innovation and value creation. The figure below shows the steps in ExxonMobil’s journey: 

Open Process Automation

Ultimately, automation systems need to operate real process equipment to bring value to the end user. ExxonMobil created an OPA prototype for a pilot unit with the help of Lockheed Martin and Wood to show that the OPA architecture could be used in an actual process at pilot scale, providing operators the necessary capability. The pandemic and associated health and safety measures limited the availability of operations resources, and the prototyping ended a month earlier than planned. However, twelve consecutive trials were run successfully, and data could be compared to the prior data from operations using a proprietary DCS.

Following the prototype project, ExxonMobil wanted to create a test bed for field trial preparation and selected Yokogawa as the system integrator. The testbed will give the company and its collaboration partners the assurance that OPA-based systems can meet the reliability and performance requirements for operating a production process.


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Keywords: ARC Industry Forum Asia, Open Process Automation, O-PAS, Standards, End Users, ARC Advisory Group.

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