Open Process Automation: From Concept to Field Deployment

Author photo: Sharada Prahladrao
By Sharada Prahladrao

Keywords: ARC Advisory Group’s 21st India Forum, Open Process Automation (OPA), ExxonMobil, PETRONAS, Ecosystem, OPAF, ARC Advisory Group.


The contemporary topic of Open Process Automation (OPA) ignited audience interest at ARC Advisory Group’s 21st India Forum titled Driving Sustainability, Energy Transition, and Performance through Digitalization on July 12th and 13th, 2023. Hosted after a gap of four years, the in-person Forum was invigorating as the 300+ delegates networked, shared best practices, and got an overall view of market trends and requirements. 

On Day 1 of the Forum, OPA was the fulcrum of the keynote presentations by Mohan Kalyanaraman, Technology Acquisition Advisor, Strategic Planning, ExxonMobil Technology and Engineering and Sharul Rashid, Group Technical Authority, Instrument & Control, PETRONAS. Day 2 featured a dedicated session on developments in the OPA ecosystem. 

Session Speakers included: 

  • Sunita Devi, Group Lead for Open Process Automation at Reliance Industries

  • Mark Hammer, OPA Product Management at Yokogawa

  • Ravindra Jagasia, Global Business Development (Automation), Strategic Growth Initiatives at R. STAHL

  • Vishal Kumar, Manager, Business Unit Automation System, Industry Management and Automation at Phoenix Contact India

  • Arvind Raju, Solutions Architect at Intel

  • Abhilasha Choudhri, Product Line Manager, VMware

The presentations and test beds prove that OPA offers several benefits over traditional process automation systems, including increased security, cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and a vendor agnostic environment that encourages innovation. This Insight captures the salient points of the keynote presentations, the OPA session, and the ensuing Q&A and panel discussion. 

Value of Open Process Automation

At the ARC India Forum in 2019, Mohan Kalyanaraman and his colleague from ExxonMobil spoke about the open process automation initiative when the journey was just beginning. “Four years later, with the pandemic under our belt, the initiative has gained momentum and we have moved into a new space,” said Mohan and proceeded to give a status update. 

The vision of OPA is “to transition industry from closed, proprietary, to open, secure, standards-based systems that accelerate innovation and value creation.” The objective is an interoperable process control architecture - taking what has traditionally been a closed proprietary system and then moving it to a more open and interoperable system that spurs innovation. ExxonMobil has been working to advance this concept, and now the company has reached a stage when it can deploy this in a manufacturing facility. Partners on this journey are aligning with the OPA standards and forming an ecosystem. For those on the sidelines the message is that this activity is up and running. 

Energy Transition

The global demand for energy keeps rising, but at the same time emissions need to be kept in check. Today we talk about carbon sequestration, blue hydrogen, and lowering the carbon footprint, but manufacturers need to be cognizant about the profitability aspect too, explained Mohan. Two aspects where standards-based approaches will help include workforce empowerment and supply chains. 

OPA Forum and ExxonMobil Activities: The OPA Forum comprises of 100+ members. The Standard of standards is guided by user needs and each year the development focus has been different, and products are being aligned to these. The collaboration partnerships provide a legal framework to share experiences with other operating companies. The main aim is to learn from each other in a non-competitive manner and accelerate industrial growth. 

From Concept to Field Deployment

Tracing the journey of OPA, Mohan said that what began as a concept after discussions with other industry participants and understanding the common pain points, is now ready for field deployment. The initiative started in late 2016 with about 57 companies; today the number has doubled. A proof-of-concept was developed using Lockheed Martin as a system integrator. A pilot testing plant was used as a test bed for OPA, and it ran for three months before shutting down due to the pandemic. A test bed was started with Yokogawa as a system integrator to prepare for a field trial. The idea is to move from a field trial to full market adoption in a collaborative way with all industrial partners. Further, Mohan gave a brief description of the field trial being done in a manufacturing facility in the US Gulf Coast. The engineering and detailed designing has been done and now the project is in the execution phase. 

Open Process Automation

The End User Speaks about the OPA Test Bed Project

Sharul Rashid of PETRONAS first heard about OPA at ExxonMobil’s presentation at the ARC Forum in Orlando (2016). Since then, he’s been an ardent advocate for OPA adoption. In 2021, PETRONAS announced its plan for OPA test bed development. This materialized in 2022 with Yokogawa as the collaboration partner. 


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