PICMG InterEdge and OPAF Partnership to Advance Open Process Control Technology

I wrote a couple of times when some press releases noted support for a new PICMG InterEdge interface for open process automation applications. They’ve announced a formal agreement with OPAF to provide an “official” OPAF edge controller connectivity.

Highlights:

  • Partnership seeks to reduce technology integration, maintenance, and upgrade costs in the process automation industry.
  • Work supports the Open Process Automation Standard (O-PAS), a standard of The Open Group, that defines resilient and scalable process automation system architectures.
  • Collaboration establishes a multi-vendor ecosystem for interoperable, interchangeable edge hardware via specifications like InterEdge.

An explanation from the press release explains, “The partnership fills a gap in edge controller hardware that exists in the O-PAS Standard—an open architectural framework for developing industrial process automation systems, currently being defined by OPAF initiatives.”

To complete and standardize work on an edge controller performed by OPAF member Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), The Open Group Forum evaluated several hardware standards development organizations. The OPAF Members selected PICMG to develop a new open edge hardware technology specification that defines electromechanical interoperability, interchangeability, hot plug capabilities, and compatibility with existing standards such as IEC 61499 and IEC 61131.

The result was the recently ratified InterEdge specification.

I should mention that I saw a similar PICMG computer put forward as a solution for a previous open controller standard. Unfortunately, the vendor selected made a few tweaks in its use of the standard such that its “open” controller actually would not accept cards from competitors. I am certain that OPAF and PICMG will vet suppliers more carefully.

The InterEdge specification introduces a modular open architecture that delivers state-of-the-art I/O abstraction and flexibility and in a common physical form factor. It supports the OPAF and O-PAS goals of reducing integration, maintenance, and upgrade costs in the highly fragmented and largely proprietary process control technology market.

The OPAF and PICMG relationship is ongoing, with work on new versions of the InterEdge specification already underway. Meanwhile, the Open Process Automation Forum has introduced InterEdge to its physical platform subcommittee, who plan to include the specification in an upcoming revision of the O-PAS Standard and devise a set of tests that evaluate conformance to the InterEdge specification.

The InterEdge specification is available now and can be purchased from the PICMG website for $750. 

Emerson Adds Software to its DeltaV Automation Platform

Emerson has gone through a process of divesting companies and adding others, such as NI (nee National Instruments) becoming overall more of an automation company. Much like years ago when Rockwell shed aerospace and trucks and other industries becoming Rockwell Automation.

Its tagline in press releases for some time has included software as an emphasis. Now, they’ve announced the new DeltaV Automation Platform adds SCADA, MES and operations management software technologies. The idea is to promote smarter, safer, optimized and more sustainable operations.

One of my more popular podcasts asked the question why industrial technology vendors are moving to software.

As part of its Boundless Automation vision for helping organizations deliver more seamless operations, global automation technology and software leader Emerson is evolving its DeltaV brand into the DeltaV Automation Platform. The newly expanded automation platform will include supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, manufacturing execution systems (MES) and operations management software alongside the distributed control (DCS) and safety systems (SIS) and other technologies that have been part of the brand for decades. The evolution builds a more comprehensive automation platform to make it easier for users to deliver smarter, safer, more optimized and more sustainable operations.

Organizations across nearly every industry including life sciences, specialty chemical, mining and extraction, food and beverage, energy and more are experiencing new complexities as they face the modern challenge of improving throughput, performance and quality while simultaneously increasing sustainability of operations. Navigating this increased complexity requires seamless mobility of data, reliable performance and advanced control strategies from the plant floor to the corporate boardroom. The comprehensive nature of the new DeltaV Automation Platform will empower users to move away from “plant-by-plant” strategies to “site-by-site” or even enterprise automation solutions—the more advanced, integrated automation strategies that are increasingly necessary to compete in a complex global marketplace.

This, of course, is an ideal way to perpetuate, and indeed increase, vendor lock-in of its customers. Why go anywhere else for all your hardware and software needs?

“In an era of increased demand and higher sustainability targets, today’s organizations are looking for ways to manage and contextualize data across the many software solutions they use to help unlock easier, faster and safer decisions,” said Nathan Pettus, president of Emerson’s process systems and solutions business. “The DeltaV Automation Platform will combine a flexible, fit-for-purpose portfolio of DCS, SIS, SCADA, MES and operations management software with unmatched application and cross-industry expertise to help cross-functional teams across the enterprise more easily achieve their goals.”

With an extensive portfolio unified under one brand, users will have access to a comprehensive technology ecosystem that provides a broader suite of solutions. Organizations will more quickly and easily find the right solutions to meet their specific needs and will gain easier access to service, training and support.

All solutions in the DeltaV Automation Platform will be seamlessly supported through the Guardian digital customer experience. 

Yokogawa Updates OpreX Process Automation Family

Yokogawa has sent a couple of process automation announcements recently. It’s been quiet on my radar for a few years. Nice to see some investment in product development. The first is the release of OpreX Robot Management Core, an application in the Asset Management and Integrity family. The second concerns strengthened industrial network support in CENTUM in the Control and Safety System family of solutions.

OpreX Robot Management Core

Yokogawa Electric Corp. announces the development and release of OpreX Robot Management Core, a software application in the OpreX Asset Management and Integrity family.

OpreX Robot Management Core is a key product in the Yokogawa robot operations solution. By integrating the management of various types of robots that perform plant maintenance tasks conventionally carried out by humans, this software will help customers maintain their facilities in a safer and more efficient manner. In addition, when connected to a plant’s control and safety systems, it enables the utilization of manufacturing site data that has been acquired by robots, and the issuing of procedural instructions to robots, thus enabling the first step to be taken toward autonomous plant operations.

In plants that have been designed around people, there is a need for the efficient management of different types of robots to carry out a variety of tasks. In response to this need, Yokogawa began discussions with robot manufacturers in 2019 and in the following year went on to develop a prototype robot management and operations platform that has since been used in proof-of-concept field tests with several customers. Leveraging the experience gained through these tests, Yokogawa has developed this software to make it easier to introduce robots in plants.

OpreX Robot Management Core is a software application that improves safety and efficiency in plant maintenance operations by facilitating the utilization of robots. Depending on customer requirements, it can be provided for use in either an on-premises or cloud environment.

1. Integrated management of different types of robots

This software enables the registration, management, and operation of multiple types of robots in a unified manner. It supports the Spot four-legged robot from Boston Dynamics and the EX ROVR autonomous, explosion-proof, plant inspection robot from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The software’s management screen, which allows users to check the status of individual robots, is viewed in a web browser, enabling remote operations.

2. Connection with other systems

This product was developed with the ability to link to Yokogawa’s OpreX Collaborative Information Server. When doing so, the data collected by robots can be combined with data from control systems, safety instrumented systems, and integrated asset management systems for centralized management. This means that application development and data analysis can also be performed easily not just for maintenance tasks, but other operational tasks too. If an interface for robot utilization is built on the OpreX Collaborative Information Server, this enables the dispatch of robots to plant sites and the performance of safety inspections based on alarms detected.

The development of OpreX Robot Management Core enables Yokogawa to fully rollout its robot operations solution aimed at increasing workplace safety. By providing consulting, assistance in the selection and procurement of hardware and software from strategic partners and other sources, and engineering, operational support and other services, Yokogawa is able to help customers resolve issues encountered in their businesses and can develop specific robot and drone applications. Through this one-stop solution, Yokogawa will ensure the reliability, availability, and sustainability of robot operations and help to achieve autonomous plant operations.

Yokogawa Upgrades the CENTUM VP Integrated Production Control System

Yokogawa Electric Corp. announces the May 31, 2024 release of CENTUM VP R6.11.10, an enhanced version of the CENTUM VP integrated production control system that is a core product in the OpreX Control and Safety System family of solutions.

With this new version of CENTUM VP, plant uptime is improved through the addition of a redundancy function to a new IO card that supports communications via the PROFINET communications protocol for industrial networks. Furthermore, to reduce project costs and improve efficiency in plant operations, functional enhancements have been made to the Unified Alarms and Conditions Server (UACS) and the CCC Inside for the Yokogawa CENTUM VP compressor control solution.

Yokogawa has developed a new PROFINET IO card that supports a redundancy function, and by doing so, has made high reliability and high uptime a reality.

Fero Labs Redefines Trust in AI for Industrial Live Predictions

Fero Labs has developed software to help certain types of process manufacturing plants improve quality output economically when given a random mix of feedstock. I wrote about the company last August—A Better Way to Control Process Quality.

They sent a new press release, and I must admit that I understood almost nothing in it:

Fero Labs, the only Profitable Sustainability Platform for industrial optimization, announced the release of their ground-breaking feature ‘ExplainIt for Live Predictions’ which expands a factory’s production knowledge in real-time. This advanced feature for cross-functional teams increases trust in AI predictions by disclosing real-time text explanations about abnormal factors influencing their live production.

There were way too many marketing-type phrases in there. Worst of all was the concept of “trust in AI predictions.” So, I asked the very patient publicist. She suggested that I talk with Berk Birand, Fero Labs Co-founder and CEO. And, I did. He was most helpful.

We caught up from my last article about their ability to use the huge data sets manufacturers have accumulated over the past decade using advanced statistical methods and “white box machine learning (ML)” to help engineers optimize their plants. Make them more profitable and reduce waste (sustainability). Therefore the “Profitable Sustainability” company.

Birand took me through an example that I could understand, since I had a customer in the 90s who did this sort of process.

Imagine a plant with piles of scrap steel in a yard. They have an electric arc furnace that melts all that disparate steel that will be poured out eventually to make their final product. Given that the feedstock has high variability as to the composition of the steel, the typical plant overdesigns the process to allow for variations. This, of course, is wasteful on the surface. But if the final chemical analysis shows that the output will not make the desired tensile strength or other spec, then the waste is even higher.

What if you accumulated the data (feedstock, process, finished steel) over time built a modern AI model? Its predictions could be used to drive profits, reduce waste, save time. But, would anyone trust yet another advanced process control system? We all know that models eventually goes out of whack sometimes and sometimes gets the wrong answer.

Here comes the “trust” part of the trust in AI model. They built an explainable model from the beginning. It can predict characteristics, say tensile strength of the mix because of chromium or carbon levels and so forth. Since we know that every model is wrong sometimes,  they built in confidence levels in the prediction engine. Their AI looks at the material composition and suggests adding chemicals to the mix, but it gives an explanation and a confidence level. The engineer looks at the confidence report (I am confident in this prediction or I’m not confident in this prediction) and can decide whether to go with the AI or to go with gut feel based on years of experience.

He convinced me. Fero Labs has developed an AI engine that gives the engineer a level of trust in the prediction.

More explanation from the press release:

Expanding on Fero Labs’ white-box ML, which provides full transparency of Fero’s powerful machine learning models, the new ExplainIt feature provides a contextual explanation of anomalous factors involved in each live production optimization.

This type of analysis is typically addressed through linear Root Cause Analysis (RCA) tools. Unlike traditional methods, Fero Labs’ solution is non-linear, much like process operations, and delivers results in seconds rather than the hours or days typically needed. Traditional methods generally require the engineer to preselect a small sample of factors to investigate, which can introduce potentially misleading biases. Fero Labs’ software has the power to evaluate all relevant factors which improves insight and prediction accuracy.

PICMG Announces Release of New InterEdge Standard

  • Targeted at Open, Modular Process Control Systems
  • Modular compute, switch, and I/O architecture enables interoperable standard for industrial PCs, PLCs, and distributed control systems.
  • Supports IEC 61499 and IEC 61131 for compatibility with a wide range of automation systems.
  • Hot-swappable modules can be replaced or upgraded while the system is running, minimizing downtime and maintenance costs.

I am trying to understand this one. Reading it for the third time, I guess the Open Process Automation Forum decided that one of its defined components among its “standard of standards” needed to be a standard. Although this “open, modular process control system” sounds eerily familiar. I hope it does help move the industry forward.

­­PICMG, the consortium for open hardware specifications, announced the release of InterEdge, a modular architecture for process control systems (PCS). The IEC 61499 and IEC 61131-compatible InterEdge specification promises to revolutionize the industry with an interoperable, multi-vendor alternative to proprietary Industrial PCs (IPCs), Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), and Distributed Control Systems (DCSs).

Given that the OPAF initiative was begun by ExxonMobil engineering leaders, this quote is informative:

“Business needs evolve at an ever-increasing rate,” said Francisco Garcia, Americas Regional Instrument Lead at ExxonMobil Technology & Engineering Company and member of the InterEdge technical working group. “InterEdge delivers an interchangeable base hardware standard for industrial manufacturers looking to adapt to changing business needs. As a result, providers can deploy and scale dedicated physical assets and focus on value-added software and services.”

And from the press release:

InterEdge defines a vendor-neutral, open standard for edge computing and I/O module hardware. It segments hardware into Compute Modules, Switch Modules, and I/O Modules. All of these modules are connected via a common backplane, enabling easy customization and expansion of industrial automation functions.

An overview of the specification and an architecture diagram are available here. The full specification is available to purchase. 

And the reason for the standard:

By replacing proprietary edge devices, InterEdge eliminates vendor lock-in, simplifies integration and maintenance, and enables online upgrades, all of which contribute to significant cost savings.

Honeywell Releases Significant Updates to Experion Process Knowledge System

It is inevitable. I receive a press release from Honeywell Process. This one regards the Experion PKS R530 process knowledge system. Upon reading, I think, oh, well, some incremental improvements. Then I talk with my main product interface, Joe Bastone. After digesting the output of his firehose, I see how advanced Honeywell the technology has become. 

Honeywell announced February 5, 2024 it is driving new automation capabilities into Experion Process Knowledge System (PKS), with Release R530. The technology update integrates new features that strengthen existing control room installations through both firmware and software upgrades and supports Honeywell’s alignment of its portfolio to three compelling megatrends: automation, the future of aviation and energy transition.

Evidently Honeywell corporate has identified three parts of a vision and is placing the updates to Experion into the automation bucket. That’s OK, but I think it does a disservice to the platform if one defines automation too narrowly or traditionally.

The Experion PKS Highly Integrated Virtual Environment (HIVE) forms the foundation that R530 builds upon.

The Experion PKS R530 update introduces Experion Remote Gateway, which further enables remote operations by providing a browser-independent method to simplify monitoring and operations. Additionally, the updated Ethernet Interface Module allows for Experion PKS HIVE integration of smart protocols while optimizing the processing load of the C300 controller. These features ensure the best possible security, reliability and performance for customers.

The press release slipped in a sentence about the updated Ethernet Interface Module. I had about 30 minutes with Bastone. He picked two key features to discuss. This was one. I cannot do justice to his entire discussion. Go to the tech pages. This module eliminates a need for controller peer-to-peer communications. “It changes how communications are done.” It allows non-Honeywell I/O to communicate into the I/O HIVE. It simplifies installation and eliminates junction boxes. Check that one out.

Experion PKS offers industry-leading flexibility in automation system design, engineering, deployment, and ongoing maintenance. Using Experion PKS Control HIVE can reduce controller count by up to 50% and system cabinet count by up to 80%, compared to traditional automation solutions. Experion PKS Control HIVE also minimizes manual interventions to ensure smoother and safer operations, reducing the risk of unplanned downtime which can impact users’ bottom line.

Back to Bastone. Imagine you have a plant. There are five areas with their own controllers. It’s all so logical and clean when new. But you have to add something at the edge of one of the areas. You go looking for the closest junction box. That may connect to a different controller. The way Control HIVE works, that can be OK. But go several years and several projects down the road. Now you may have a complex mess. But the HIVE decouples controllers and applications. The C300 can run two apps at the same time. Now if you are in a primary/backup architecture and a primary goes out, you have the backup. But the backup has no backup. So, Control HIVE can look for a partner and find a new backup. This decoupling has, in effect, added resiliency to the overall system while reducing the total number of controllers needed.

What has amazed me is that Honeywell has developed almost everything that the original designers of OPAF envisioned—except for total interoperability. They were looking for totally generic hardware so that any supplier’s products could be seamlessly inserted on upgrades. That’ll probably never happen. But Honeywell’s decoupling and HIVE technology provides a lot of upgrade capability and modernizes the architecture.

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