Our schedules finally aligned and I was able to catch up with Ed Harrington, director of the Open Process Automation Forum for The Open Group. A few months ago I talked with Gary Freburger and Peter Martin of Schneider Electric’s process automation unit. We discussed the OPAF and what had been going on since the ARC Forum in Orlando last February.
OPAF has laid out an ambitious agenda moving automation toward an era of open connectivity and interoperability.
The original plan broached a couple of years ago at ARC Forum by representatives of ExxonMobil and Lockheed Martin was to prod suppliers into reducing the problem of upgrading systems in the field without the huge expense of rip-and-replace. Considerable industry jockeying ensued. Schneider Electric (Foxboro) eventually taking a leadership position in the effort with assistance from Yokogawa and to a degree Siemens. Other suppliers are watching and evaluating.
Smaller suppliers such as Inductive Automation have become involved along with some of the major automation systems suppliers.
The OPAF specification is really a standard of standards. The group wishes to build upon existing standards, assembling them in such a way as to advance the cause of open automation.
Harrington told me that so far this year, the group has published three items (that are open to the public). One is a business guide, The Open Process Automation Business Guide: Value Proposition and Business Case for the Open Process Automation Standard.
The industrial control systems that manufacturers use to automate their processes are critical to the company’s productivity and product quality. To increase the business contribution from control systems, manufacturers need:
1. Increases in operational benefits from improved capabilities
2. Improvements in cybersecurity compared to currently available systems
3. Reductions in the system’s capital and lifecycle costs
The organization has also published The Open Group Snapshot—Open Process Automation Technical Reference Model: Technical Architecture and a white paper Requirements for an Open Process Automation Standard.
Harrington also told me to expect an announcement of further work at next week’s Open Group Quarterly Meeting in Singapore.
I have seen a number of these initiatives in my career. Few succeed in entirety. However, the thinking that goes into this work always moves industry forward. I don’t know if we’ll ever see a truly OPAF control system. Anything that brings more rationality to the market keeping in minds the goals of OPAF will do much for helping manufacturers and producers improve performance. And that’s what it’s all about.
The 22nd annual ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 12-15, 2018, will focus on the new digitally-enabled technologies, approaches, and business processes that are disrupting the way industry, infrastructure, and municipalities around the world operate and serve their respective customers.
This digital transformation impacts every aspect of business, industry, and infrastructure.
Digital Transformation Changes Everything
“We’re seeing signs of positive disruption via digital transformation everywhere we look,” said Andy Chatha, president and founder of ARC Advisory Group. “Today’s smart, connected, information-driven industrial enterprises are making better use of their assets and data to improve business and regulatory performance. We’re seeing a similar transformation across infrastructure and within municipalities.”
But Chatha also points out that challenges remain. “Without robust cybersecurity, connected enterprises are more vulnerable to hackers and other cyber-criminals. Also, today’s shortage of the skilled knowledge workers needed for successful digital transformation will become an increasing constraint.”
To help meet these and other challenges, ARC has helped organize an end user-driven Digital Transformation Council, which will convene for the first time at this year’s Forum.
Learn from Industry Leaders
Experts from industry, infrastructure, government, and academia will convene in Orlando in February to further explore these and related topics.
Keynote speakers will include Kenny Warren, Vice President of Engineering at ExxonMobil Research & Engineering, who will speak on the business goals of the company’s Open Process Automation initiative; and Jason Handley, Director of Smart Grid Emerging Technology and Operations at Duke Energy, who will speak on new technologies that are impacting the emerging Smart Grid. Mr. Warren and Mr. Handley will be joined by many other senior executive presenters at the ARC Forum.
Forum topical tracks include:
- Advanced Analytics and Machine Learning
- Asset Performance Management
- Automation Innovations (including Open Process Automation)
- Connected Smart Machines
- Cybersecurity and Safety
- Industrial Internet Platforms
- IoT Network Edge Infrastructure and End Devices
- Convergence of Information, Operational, and Engineering Technologies
Join in the Conversation
The upcoming ARC Industry Forum in Orlando offers a unique opportunity for professionals from industry and infrastructure to learn from their peers and share their own experiences and lessons learned in their respective digital transformation journeys.
The future of process automation was front and center of discussions last week at the Foxboro User Group—The Foxboro Company being the process automation arm of Schneider Electric.
During the week I was involved in quite animated discussions with SVP Chris Lyden and VP Peter Martin regarding the future of process automation. These executives are convinced that there is an inflexion point we are reaching where we are returning to the open architecture we started with years ago. The pendulum swung toward centralized, integrated systems. Technology has progressed to a point of realizing the old dream of distributed control, interoperable systems, systems of systems, and open systems based on standards.
Martin used his closing remarks to the group to talk about the Open Process Automation Forum, which is organized under The Open Group. You may recall I’ve written about this group following each of the last two ARC Industry Forums in Orlando.
The spark was provided by a group from ExxonMobil who saw a dire need to upgrade its systems. Leaders looked at the huge upfront cost of the control upgrade plus the likelihood of being locked into a single supplier and then facing huge lifecycle costs during the life of the equipment.
“When we released our first DCS 30 years ago, we tried to make it as open as possible,” said Martin. “We felt for future innovation, the system needed to be as open as possible. But the level of standards necessary just didn’t exist.”
When ExxonMobil said they wanted to build an open platform, “we jumped in” added Martin.
Foxboro’s Trevor Cusworth is co-chair of the OPAF. He asked attendees to consider the benefits of joining in the effort. “We need more end users,” he said, “since we have only about 11 right now.”
The key benefit noted was reducing lifecycle costs, while the key technology is a new type of I/O.
From the OPAF brochure:
Not only can you contribute to the creation and development of a new process automation system, you can also:
- Ensure your experience and requirements are included
- Advocate that your industry sector is represented
- Validate that existing standards important to you are used
- Sustain the benefits of the standard and subsequent certification programs
Takeaways: This is an ambitious undertaking. The last one of these I saw eventually fell apart due to a “vicious circle”—suppliers got into the discussion hoping for new sales or the ability to knock off the incumbent; end users failed to not only write the system into their specs even if they did they weren’t enforced; suppliers lost interest due to no sales.
One important thing: If this catches on, it will greatly shake up the process automation supplier market.
The latest attempt at building an open control platform is driven by ExxonMobil and given some support by the ARC Advisory Group by offering a venue for meetings. I wrote about the meeting during the ARC Forum in Orlando. What I find most interesting is linking this to the Internet of Things.
It will be interesting to see where this leads. I’ve seen attempts in the past to try to get suppliers to ditch their computing or control platforms to go with a generic open system where end users could drive pricing down to commodity levels. Of course, such a system would require lots of engineering—a boon to systems integrators.
Although the dream of complete plug-and-play requiring no integration is a problem waiting a solution. We’ve seen this scenario play out in the computer business. The result was locked down hardware with a measure of interoperability of systems. I think that this is where standards are most valuable.
WindRiver has cast its lot with the ExxonMobil-led Open Process Control initiative and has announced a product in support of the effort. It has announced availability of a software virtualization platform enabling critical infrastructure companies to cost-effectively evolve aging legacy control systems not previously designed to support the connected nature of IoT. Wind River Titanium Control empowers the next generation of on-premise analytics to optimize industrial processes.
“ARC believes the influx of new IIoT technologies now entering the automation market has the potential to be a major disruption to existing business models that have been relatively stable for decades,” said Harry Forbes, research director at ARC Advisory Group, a leading technology research firm for industry and infrastructure. “An excellent example is Titanium Control, which combines Wind River’s long experience in real-time operating systems with on-premise cloud computing technology. This combination enables the virtualization of real-time automation applications that until recently could only be implemented in embedded systems hardware. The implications of this capability for the manufacturing automation market are very far-reaching, and automation suppliers are noticing.”
Because traditional industrial control systems were not designed to support IoT, most are rigid, single purpose, and have a high cost to deploy, integrate, and maintain. Additionally, the obsolescence cycle is driving system updates that require new systems to keep pace with innovation while maintaining or lowering capital costs.
Titanium Control is a commercially deployable on-premise cloud infrastructure that virtualizes traditional physical subsystems using a platform based on open standards. It delivers the high performance, high availability, flexibility, and low latency needed to reduce capital and operating expenses, as well as minimize unscheduled downtime for industrial applications and control services at any scale. Unlike enterprise IT virtualization platforms, it provides high reliability for applications and services deployed at the network edge, for example in fog deployments.
Key features of Titanium Control include:
- De facto standard open source software for on-premise cloud and virtualization, including Linux, real-time Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) and OpenStack
- High performance and high availability with accelerated vSwitch and inter-VM communication, plus virtual infrastructure management
- Security features including isolation, secure boot and Trusted Platform Module enabled through Enhanced Platform Awareness
- Scalability from two to over 100 compute nodes
- Hitless software updates and patching with no interruption to services or applications
“With the emergence of Industrial IoT, companies are looking to deploy next-generation open and secure control systems; Titanium Control addresses this need, and is in active trials with customers in industries ranging from manufacturing to energy to healthcare,” said Jim Douglas, president of Wind River. “Our software has been providing these companies with powerful ways to increase efficiency and bolster safety, security, and reliability for the last 35 years. With the addition of Titanium Control to our product portfolio, Wind River is driving a new industrial era through virtualization, real-time performance and edge-to-cloud connectivity.”
Titanium Control is part of the Wind River Titanium Cloud portfolio of virtualization products for the deployment of critical services from operations to data center environments that require real-time performance and continuous service availability. It is optimized for Intel Xeon processors, and is pre-validated on hardware from the leading providers of Intel-based servers.
Open Process Automation and IT/OT Convergence. Thursday, the last day of the ARC Forum, is not always all that well attended. The 2017 edition witnessed two sessions that held the attention of the later departing attendees. These two attracted a reasonably good attendance.
I didn’t do the IT/OT one, but I had great interest in the Open Process Automation Forum (Open DCS?).
This was my 20th ARC Forum. My first Forum featured another open control series of meetings on Thursday morning—The Open Modular Architecture Controller group. That group of engineers and managers sought to specify a PLC based upon the computing standards of the time. The culmination of that effort was a CompactPCI chassis cobbled together by an entrepreneur. It was not picked up. Meanwhile OMAC pivoted when end user companies principally P&G and Nestle moved the focus to packaging machines. The goal became machines that used standard states and HMI in order to reduce training time for operators as they moved from machine to machine.
ExxonMobil appeared at the Forum last year with an idea. It wished to reduce the cost to deploy and eventually upgrade its control systems. It had worked with Lockheed Martin to devise a plan from the avionics industry (FACE).
This session at the Forum updated attendees with progress. It has formed under The Open Group as the Open Process Automation Forum. Although driven by ExxonMobil initially, the goal is to form a broad alliance of owner/operators, end users, systems integrators, and suppliers developing this new automation platform.
Many people at the conference relate this effort to the old OMAC work. They see the end game as a customer trying to drive down the cost of the system. Especially a customer who faces two problems: the immediate problem of upgrading old technology; the long range cost of upgrading technology to newer levels.
Another way to view this initiative is more altruistic in the sense of driving disruptive change in the market for all users using standards.
I am conflicted in trying to understand the dynamics of the situation. As a proponent of standards, I applaud the effort to find ways to implement standards and interoperability. Interoperability has been proven in many industries as a driver for business growth. The idea of decoupling hardware and software holds great promise for future upgrades.
But if, in effect, the customers simply wish to drive automation components and software to commodity level, then I see problems. Such ideas have killed entire industries in the past.
I also look at the old PC technology when there many players developing cards for the PC bus to add on to an “IBM PC.” But over time, technology enabled chip manufacturers to incorporate all those features into the main CPU and the industry returned to basically a single source for a computer.
Predictions? I’m not making any right now. However…
This process is now more than a year old, and yet, the theme of the Forum in Orlando was a plea for participation. There were few other owner/operators. Even though almost all major suppliers have signed on, only two (Schneider Electric and Yokogawa) appear to be active. The leaders have put forth an ambitious timing plan. The group is going to have to build a critical mass of participants quickly.
One more point. There is an age-old tension between an end-user wishing to reduce procurement costs by being able to competitively bid everything. However that means that someone must assemble all the components. On the other hand, end user companies also like partnerships with suppliers for joint development and better service.
By decoupling end user from supplier, something or someone must fill the gap. That would be the system integrator, I guess.
There are many questions.
Without further comment, I’ll leave you with the Open Process Automation Forum’s Vision Statement.
Composed of a broad group of end users, product suppliers, systems integrators, and academics, the Forum will create a technologically appropriate open process automation architecture and specifications along with business guidance for its adoption and use.
- This will result in a standards-based open, secure, and interoperable process automation architecture and instances thereof that have the following characteristics:
Easily integrates best-in-class components to provide timely access to leading edge performance
- Employs an adaptive intrinsic security model
- Enables the procurement and modular interaction of certified conformant components into systems that are fit-for-purpose for the end users’ needs
- Is commercially available and applicable to multiple industry sectors
- Protects suppliers’ Intellectual Property within conformant components
- Enables portability and preservation of end users’ application software
- Significantly reduces the difficulty of future replacements and reduces the lifecycle cost of systems