“In more than 25 years in the automation and energy business, I have never experienced more exciting times, albeit with more existential challenges,” says Peter Terwiesch, President, ABB Process Automation. Terwiesch spoke with me several times back when he was CTO of ABB process automation. He has always had marvelous insight into technology trends and process applications.

Terwiesch states the current state of process control spot on. I’ve watched the momentum of the Open Group building over the past few years. Could it suffer the same fate as its predecessor OMAC? Or could enough suppliers adopt significant parts of the “standard of standards” that we see the long awaited (by users) revolution toward open and interoperable and upgradable technology?

During my travel marathon in May/June, I had learned of Honeywell’s new direction with process control adding a level of open to a proprietary platform. Versions of openness including updates of the work of the Open Process Automation Forum were discussed at the ARC Industry Forum that I reported on podcast 242, Hype Curve. Schneider Electric (along with many smaller companies) has been stirring up news with its push toward open automation called Universal Automation.

Just at that time, ABB released a white paper on the future of process automation from Terwiesch. While at ARC, I had an opportunity to talk with Bernhard Eschermann, CTO Process Automation to make sure I understood the direction.

Following are some highlights from ABB.

  • At the core of controlling and supervising complex processes, the DCS will continue to provide the essentials needed for safe and reliable operations, while evolving its functionality to serve the needs of accelerating digital transformation and energy transition. It will combine an ability to scale and serve new market conditions by adapting to new technologies, including the provision of standard interfaces for third-party connectivity.
  • ABB foresees a modular automation architecture that will evolve to address customer needs, becoming more open, interoperable and flexible, while maintaining the same high level of reliability, availability, safety and security to which users have grown accustomed.
  • The DCS of the future will be embedded in a digitally-enabled environment that facilitates enterprise-wide secure connectivity and collaboration among people, systems and equipment.
  • New business models will be feasible through readily downloadable application subscription services.
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence will speed issue resolution and promote remote, autonomous operations that keep people out of harm’s way and mitigate against human-induced error.

“With the DCS of tomorrow, we will accelerate innovation while maintaining the reliability and continuity for which we are known,” said Peter Terwiesch, President, ABB Process Automation. “This white paper is a blueprint for automation systems that will future-proof industries for decades to come. Many of the industries we serve are energy and material intensive, and strive toward more sustainable production. As they increasingly integrate renewables into their energy mix, we will provide the automation with which to do it.”

From the white paper:

  • ABB will separate automation into an evergreen robust core served by a modular architecture, prioritizing real-time response; with an extended, digitally enabled environment that securely connects to IoT, and enhances the collaboration of people, systems, and equipment.
  • Consistent with the Open Process Automation Forum’s vision of independent software modules with defined communication interfaces, the future Process Automation Systems core and extended system environments will be virtual, modular domains with cyber secure interfaces based on industry-standard OPC UA information models and communications.
  • These containerized modules will be automatically orchestrated in accordance with their performance and security expectations. This moves enforcement of authentication and authorization from the network perimeter toward a zero-trust approach at the core where components will be required to digitally prove their identity and originality, as well as their authorization for specific tasks, in order to properly deal with the evolving threat landscape.
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