Experts Discuss Open Process Automation Issues

Experts Discuss Open Process Automation Issues
Experts Discuss Open Process Automation Issues

The Coalition for Open Process Automation (COPA) hosted a 90-minute virtual broadcast discussion and first public demonstration of the COPA QuickStart system illustrating the benefits and value of Open Process Automation based on the O-PAS standard. This is another activity focused on the goal to achieve multivendor open interoperability process & control automation systems enabling users to be more profitable and competitive worldwide. 

Competitive manufacturing advantage

The current major automation vendor proprietary architectures and gated partner ecosystems are primarily focused on optimizing their profits and capturing the customer rather than meeting customer goals. The Open Process Automation System (O-PAS) standard is focused on making manufacturing companies more profitable and competitive. The move to open industrial and process automation systems is analogous to the shifts that occurred when PC open hardware and software technology displaced minicomputer and mainframes bundled systems. A thriving open industrial control marketplace unleashes the innovation and creativity from a broad range of companies and beverages the significant advances and innovation of the computer and IoT (Internet of Things).

Expert panel discussion

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion about Open Process Automation with industry experts and thought leaders discussing the competitive advantages industrial production companies achieved by making investments in open process automation systems. We had a great panel of seasoned industry people with deep knowledge in their fields discussing why industrial open systems are vital for companies to be successful in the future.  


  • Don Bartusiak a thought leader and tireless champion of open automation systems continues to be instrumental in the development of the Open Process Automation System standards and president of Austin, Texas, -based Collaborative Systems Integration providing systems integration services and software products for Open Process Automation (O-PAS) based systems. 
  • Bob Hagenau, CEO of, is committed to helping Industrial Manufacturing be more efficient and competitive by uniquely blending OT and IT technologies into a single open platform and by bringing automation, flexibility and artificial intelligence to Industrial Control Systems.
  • Dieter Hess, co-founder and CEO of CODESYS, creator of the CODESYS IEC 61131-3 hardware-independent automation software, has been dedicated to open standards particularly IEC 61131 since founding of the company in 1994. 
  • Pat McCurdy, vice president of Industry Management and Automation for Phoenix Contact USA, has 30 years of industrial automation and process control industry experience. Phoenix Contact has been a longtime supporter of industrial automation industrial networking, IEC 61131 and other open standards.
  • Libanio Carlos de Souza, CEO of Nova SMAR S/A, has been active in the process automation industry for 35 years participating in standardization of Fieldbus as a Brazilian IEC representative  IEC and SMAR's ISA and Fieldbus Foundation representative. He is a member of OPAF, Open Process Automation Forum, contributing to the definition and validation of function blocks.

Panel members generously shared their thoughts and insights starting with two major questions:

  • Why should end users understand and explore OPA?
  • What are the risks if end users ignore OPA?

Recorded event link

These are selected comments from the panel discussion. A recording of the entire event is available free here.

Comments from Don Bartusiak

The why is based on solving needs of end-users to generate more business value with their control system by lowering barriers for inserting new technology. The demonstration in this event is a functioning system that embodies the principles of the Open Process Automation System to achieve these goals. Bartusiak described major value with examples of “easy insertion of new technology right at the control edge.”

The demonstration illustrates initial and lifecycle total cost of ownership savings using products that have “superior price and performance characteristics compared to currently available offerings.” Another important part of the demonstration is ease of systems management with automated discovery. 

The risks of not paying attention to this initiative include being left behind competitively when you see the capabilities to improve value generation by knocking down the barriers to innovation insertion. The competitive value for a manufacturing company becomes obvious when you learn and understand OPAS and why you want to buy into this and not be left out.

Audience questions

The audience asked the panelists the following questions:

How should I start?
The COPA training and QuickStart offering is designed to provide digestible bite-size pieces to allow users to start the journey. This is not concepts and theory; it is real and the demonstrated today illustrated the tangible value of an operational system.

Note: You can view the recording of the live demonstration here.

Where do I get resources to learn?
If companies look inside, they will find very motivated employees that are digital natives that given the opportunity to work with open platforms will quickly accept the challenge and improve the business results for the company. Many times, resources are in the company, but the proprietary legacy systems are a big constraint blocking in-house innovation. Open systems, on the other hand, provide opportunities for these internal resources to innovate and achieve positive results.

What about my existing systems that are in place... we can’t just replace them all at one time?
OPAS provides modularity and defines the way to integrate legacy systems into the new system architecture.  Specifically the OPAS Standard part 7 defines gateways to integrate existing systems.

How can I find the standards and read them?
The standards are available online at no cost here by simply entering your name and email address you can download the standards documents free of charge.

How should I justify to my management the time and resources to look into OPAS?
The risk of technology complacency is very high at this time, and being competitive in the new digital world requires being faster and implementing technology. Management companies have a much greater awareness of technology and its value understanding the benefits of technology in their business systems and personal lives. COPA and O-PAS provide a way to do that in a very safe, secure and reliable way. 

It is far more efficient to learn and understand the O-PAS open system multivendor platform that seamlessly uses a wide range of solutions rather than doing separate analysis of many proprietary DCS offerings. Once a proprietary DCS is selected your staff must learn how to use the system opposed to an open system that has consistent programming and operation for any vendor products used.

Comments from Bob Hagenau

We can always learn by looking back at history: innovation will increase significantly and rapidly as we move from closed proprietary systems to open systems. Moving from a model where single individual companies are driving innovation on their proprietary platforms to an entire ecosystem of companies driving innovation on open platforms delivers users significantly greater value. The open ecosystem includes large traditional industrial automation companies, machine learning companies, leading academic organizations, and others driving forward innovation. The speed of innovation will increase significantly, providing a real opportunity for industrial end-users to take advantage of these advances.

Adopting technologies is important for business to remain effective and profitable. For example, Harvard business school did a study of an architectural firms that was an early adopter of CAD systems including laser printers, desktop publishing and other technologies made possible as with the open PC hardware and software architecture that started a whole new wave of innovation. This small firm with 15 employees had a capacity for about 30 clients at a time that used the new open technologies increasing client capacity to 100.  They also attracted the best talent who wanted to work for companies using the latest technologies rather than hand-drawn architectural diagrams. This led to becoming known as a thought leader and attracting the best clients.   Those are the type of transformations that will happen in the industrial space for users that aggressively pursue the opportunity to revolutionize their business and take a leadership role.

Comments from Dieter Hess

The advantages of open process automation are the same as we’ve seen in other industries with no vendor lock-in giving you the opportunity to use innovative software and hardware from many vendors. In open platforms, users always have the option to choose and add-on a better or more advanced technology to the system. It is very clear that open systems allow users to adopt new innovations efficiently opposed to being locked in the closed systems. There are cost advantages like we have seen in the computer industry over the years.

The risk of ignoring the shift to open systems is running on your proprietary systems for years unable to take advantage of incremental innovations and requiring major costs later to change systems. Staying with a proprietary system risks not being able to take advantage of the latest technologies that come with open systems to be more competitive.

Comments from Pat McCurdy

We are seeing from our customers that industry is finally at the point where the promise of IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), Digitalization and Industry 4.0 is really coming into focus. Important business needs can be solved by deploying higher levels of technologies in the running of their manufacturing. Also, users want the ability to upgrade systems in easy and cost-effective ways as technology continues to expand at rapid rates.

Open Process Automation provides a standards-based mechanism for end users to break away from proprietary systems of the past and deploy these new technologies while still maintaining safety, regulatory control, security and other important things critical to infrastructure and process industries.

End users really want to be competitive in a fast-changing competitive world. Open process automation can provide the confidence for them to deploy these new technologies in a safe and efficient way. I tell my team all the time we are in a unique period history, a once in a career moment, when these forces are converging with opportunity and technology to make big steps forward driving automation throughout all the manufacturing industries making them more competitive and profitable.


Comments from Libanio Carlos de Souza

My vision is from someone that participated in the fieldbus wars and to me Open Process Automation Systems is an evolution of innovation in the automation industry that started with the digital protocols in the 1990s. I think the key point is that many of the users were not prepared for the technology at that time and did not use them. Some users and their teams used the early technologies for more than 20 years and gained a competitive advantage.

I think the broader community in the automation sector now understands the needs and are prepared. COPA is doing a very good job with the training and preparing the community to understand all the IT technologies that improve industrial systems. I think OPAS brings a lot of flexibility including information models and tags instead of addressing. The OPAS multivendor modularity enables a system to easily grow, update and add features.  The open multivendor standard provides users the freedom to choose from a diversity of suppliers to take advantage of technological advancements while preserving existing application knowledge and programs. Finally, OPAS provides orchestration making it easy to make additions, add features and change instruments automatically.

Event link

You can view the recording of the live demonstration and panel discussion here.

Bill’s observations

The next big step for manufacturing and production companies to achieve leadership competitiveness and profitability are integrated multivendor open architecture systems from business systems to sensors. 

The computer industry has advanced innovation, performance, ease-of-use and application portability dramatically with open systems while industrial systems have remained proprietary at their core. The middle ground major industrial automation vendors have created are gated and managed and controlled ecosystems of partners but this does not unleash broad innovation. Evidence of this is the inability of innovative companies that are not admitted into these ecosystems with products competitive to the automation vendors offerings.

This is another tipping point for industry with implications like the introduction of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) and Distributed Control Systems (DCS). Tipping points are that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold and spreads like wildfire changing industry. Over the last decades who would have run an industrial plant with banks of relays and pneumatic PID controllers rather than deploying PLCs and DCS?

About The Author

Bill Lydon brings more than 10 years of writing and editing expertise to, plus more than 25 years of experience designing and applying technology in the automation and controls industry. Lydon started his career as a designer of computer-based machine tool controls; in other positions, he applied programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and process control technology. Working at a large company, Lydon served a two-year stint as part of a five-person task group, that designed a new generation building automation system including controllers, networking, and supervisory & control software. He also designed software for chiller and boiler plant optimization. Bill was product manager for a multimillion-dollar controls and automation product line and later cofounder and president of an industrial control software company.

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