At the November 2021 NAMUR General Assembly, ExxonMobil announced that they have internally approved progressing a field trial of an Open Process Automation system. The project will be engineered and started up during 2022-23. Previously, ExxonMobil has shared this decision only with the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF), a forum of the Open Group that is developing the related standards and compliance processes. The NAMUR event was the first time ExxonMobil had shared this decision at an industry event.
In discussing with ARC, ExxonMobil emphasized that the O-PAS standard (Rev 2.1) was sufficiently close even if the standard does not address all of the objectives articulated for an Open Process Automation system.
This made it clear to ExxonMobil that it made more sense for them to move ahead with a field trial now rather than postpone a trial for another full year to wait for further refinement of the O-PAS specification. ARC discussed several specific questions about the decision and the project with ExxonMobil personnel. What follows are ExxonMobil’s responses, unedited except for clarity.
Q&A with ExxonMobil on the Open Process Automation Field Trial
ARC: Give us a broad perspective about ExxonMobil’s internal qualification process for determining technical and commercial readiness of a technology or product.
ExxonMobil: Technical readiness requires a comparison of the features and capabilities of the technology and related products with the current usage and future desired functionalities for our automation systems. The basic equation is that a new system should be equal or better than current capabilities and able to realize the enhanced or improved state. Commercial readiness requires an evaluation of the availability of the products as standard catalog offerings along with support from the marketplace and by vendors specifically. Commercial readiness needs supported product available through normal marketplace channels versus R&D projects or lab-ware that requires significant customization.
ARC: Explain how the ExxonMobil OPA Proof-of-Concept, OPA prototype, and OPA Test Bed fitted in with this ExxonMobil qualification process.
ExxonMobil: The Proof-of-Concept work demonstrated the art of the possible as well as began the process of understanding the important requirements for products fulfilling the roles in the OPA Architecture. The Prototype project continued to push the usage of the open, standards-based technologies and further refined the feature requirements and implementation methods along with testing industrial product usage in these new ways. The Test Bed serves as a return to more basic R&D in the beginning, progressing to qualification of candidate technologies and products in preparation for the Field Trial project in the later stages.
The Prototype system was capable of being operated and beneficial to the Operators running a pilot unit and supportable (in the short term) by our R&D partners in that project yet was not a complete solution for a system that would be fielded for years of service. The Test Bed completes the supportable technology set and provides confidence that the system can be successful in the Field Trial, as this requires components and integration that meet the ExxonMobil quality and performance requirements for an automation system.
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Keywords: ExxonMobil, Field Trial, Open Process Automation, OPAF, O-PAS, ARC Advisory Group.