EIF 2023 Review – Open process automation for users

ARC’s European Industry Forum, part of its successful series of global conferences in Europe, America and Asia, was held in Sitges (Barcelona), Spain from 15 – 17 May 2023. The event featured exclusive presentations and workshops on strategies and case studies in line with the this year’s theme “Managing Industry Evolution in Times of Global Disruption” to the 160 international participants from 20 countries.

Open Process Automation (OPA) session for users

The Open Process Automation (OPA) session for users provided a platform for users to testify about their OPA applications and plans. This session was in addition to the workshop organized by the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) at the forum. The interest in the subject was very high and attracted many participants.

OPA @ ExxonMobil

Mohan Kalyanaraman kicked off the session with an overview of OPA at ExxonMobil. Mr. Kalyanaraman formulated the initiative as part of an innovative response to many challenges, and in particular the energy transition.

  • Emerging process technologies
  • Remote locations and widespread resources
  • Lower carbon footprint while increasing profitability.
  • Workforce evolution and supply chain disruptions

Secure, robust, scalable and cost-effective standards-based solutions are seen as an opportunity for the required innovation, especially open systems, flexible architectures, smart apps and intrinsic cybersecurity are sought-after qualities to realize the vision of process automation at ExxonMobil vision. The company sets the following objectives:

  • Increased supplier competition
  • Fewer barriers to new technology
  • Lower integration and lifecycle costs
  • Reuse control applications in different systems
  • Safe and customizable by design

ARC notes that more competition and lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of control systems would increase the pace of implementation and the total number of potential projects, many of which are currently delayed or unfunded.

The OPAF, with a broad representation of suppliers and users, is the vehicle to achieve a widely accepted standard and enable shared learning between users, integrators and suppliers. The current version of the standard (O-PAS™) focuses on interoperability, configuration portability and control functionality. O-PAS builds as much as possible on existing standards and works together with other relevant standards in development, such as NAMUR’s MTP and NOA.

Progress since 2016 has included the establishment of OPAF, proof of concepts in lab and pilot plants, test benches and the latest test bench is preparing for first field deployment. The latter will provide DCS and PLC functionality based on commercially available products compliant with O-PAS v2.1, with approximately 2500 I/O and 90 control loops served by a single station. The startup will begin in 2023 and the project will be completed in 2024, and ExxonMobil plans to share the lessons learned from the project.

OPA @ Shell

Jacco Opmeer, Principal Automation Engineer at Shell Global Solutions, explains Shell’s strategy for the migration to O-PAS. The focus is twofold: brownfield installations are connected to O-PAS compliant systems using gateways via the O-PAS Communication Framework (OCF). Second, O-PAS native greenfield installations are built with an emphasis on interoperability, scalability, and modularity. Shell’s test system tests both scenarios and establishes a connection between the brownfield and greenfield O-PAS instance. After the connection is established, some of the traditional applications will be moved to O-PAS-enabled Decentral Control Nodes (DCN) and other applications will be moved to the Advanced Control Platform.

An image with text, screenshot, software, diagram Description automatically generated Shell test system (Source: Shell)

This year Shell wants to continue testing and preferably add certified products, to validate the maturity to use the O-PAS systems in future Shell projects. Part of the testing program is to apply the IEC 61449-based Control Runtime, which is maintained by UniversalAutomation.org, and determine its applicability. Since the Runtime allows interoperability between different control nodes, it is expected to be the case.

The company further plans to make progress in information and data standards, as well as reference architectures. The latter are useful as templates to generate specific architectures from. Shell also plans to work with industry partners on lifecycle migration based on the O-PAS standard. Shell plans to deploy systems based on certified products in 2024 and beyond.

A diagram of a computer system Description automatically generated with low confidencePhase 2 in Shell’s test program: moving applications to DCNs in the control and application layers (Source: Shell).

OPA @ Cargill

Cargill’s Dominic de Kerf sees the declining lifecycles of hardware, operating systems, software and automation applications as a challenging increase in complexity for owner-operators. At the same time, requirements for automation hardware, software and architectures are more demanding than ever:

  • Classic technical requirements remain (safety, security, determinism, etc.)
  • No planned maintenance interruptions (!)
  • Maintenance-friendly systems throughout their lifespan
  • Lowest possible TCO (including lowest risk, downtime, lead time, effort, parts)
  • High dexterity

These goals can only be achieved through innovation, in particular by undoing the rigidities of the past (vendor connectivity, custom interfaces, incompatibilities, difficulties in changing and upgrading) and replacing them with standards-based, interoperable, interchangeable and flexible modular systems, where software and functions are decoupled from infrastructure (hardware). The journey towards the goals requires dedication and commitment, as well as time, focus and resources.