Understanding Open Process Automation

Understanding Open Process Automation
Understanding Open Process Automation

Cutting-edge automation and technology topics ranging from NASA’s Artemis missions to clean energy to industrial cybersecurity were highlights of the 2022 Automation and Leadership Conference put on by International Society of Automation in November in Galveston, Texas. And one of the most important was the IIoT and Smart Manufacturing session on “Open Process Automation: Moving from Concept to Reality.” Global industrial and chemical companies are collaborating with process automation vendors and system integrators to bring a change in automation architectures through the adoption of standards.

The Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) sponsored a panel discussion at the conference revealing how its members are driving change away from proprietary architectures and toward an open architecture that allows the use of new stateof-the-art equipment and functions as well as the continued use of proprietary software applications.

Unlocking innovation and successfully implementing digital transformation requires full access to data from all operational levels, they said, from the highest levels of business systems down to the operational edge. That requires a system architecture that prioritizes interoperability, modularity, standards conformity, compliance with security standards, scalability and portability.

“The vision of OPAF is to change from a close proprietarycontrolled system architecture to an open, interoperable, and secure process,” said Aneil Ali, director of The Open Group, which manages OPAF.

“Instead of the traditional hierarchical process control architecture, OPAF is moving toward a much flatter architecture, which places most of the control functionality where it is most needed, instead of taking the control functionality up several layers and then bringing it back down to the control element,” Ali said. “We must ensure the data can flow freely from where it is generated to where it’s needed, which enables us to connect both the business systems as well as the processcontrolled manufacturing systems.”

Coalition of companies Other participants on the panel represented the coalition of companies at work within OPAF:

  • Mohan Kalyanaraman, technology acquisition advisor, strategic planning, ExxonMobil
  • David DeBari, process control engineer, ExxonMobil
  • Sharul Rashid, group head, Petronas
  • Tom Clary, director, Schneider Electric
  • Bob Hagenau, CEO, CPLANE.ai
  • Jacqueline Allen, director, business development and applied intelligence, Wood

OPAF is tackling market education and adoption of open process automation from three different angles, said Ali. “First, we’re developing the technical standard. Second is developing the certification program so end users can have confidence in the products that enter the market as ‘open’: They’re certified to pass the standard, and they’ll work according to what it says on the box,” he explained.

The third aspect is developing the business ecosystem—the end users, suppliers, and system integrators who contribute to the success of the standard through publication and adoption of guides, whitepapers, and other tools.

A coalition of vendor companies needed to come together “because, by definition, an open system can’t be delivered by a single vendor,” said Bob Hagenau, CEO of CPLANE.ai. “We saw the need to bring together vendors that had components into a single group called the Coalition for Open Process Automation, or COPA, to start to build these systems and show that they’re viable.” COPA members also wanted to create commercial products that could be purchased.

Built on standards

OPAF, formally launched in November of 2016, develops and maintains the Open Process Automation Standards (O-PAS, figure 1). To ensure interoperability, the parts of O-PAS follow accepted reference standards including ISA 95, ISA 99, ISA 18, OPC UA, and others. The O-PAS Standard, Version 2.1 Preliminary was published in May 2021 and is available now. The O-PAS Standard, Version 2.1 Final will be available in 1Q 2023.

Figure 1: OPAF is focused on developing a multivendor standardsbased open, secure, and interoperable process control architecture.

The final version expands the standard based on feedback from the industry, and suppliers can begin building products for certification to it. Latest version of The O-PAS Standard is always available at: https:// publications.opengroup.org/standards/opa.

According to Mohan Kalyanaraman, technology acquisition advisor and strategic planning for ExxonMobil, version one of the standard dealt with interoperability and communications. Version two dealt with configuration portability and control functionality. “For the next set of features, we are introducing our application portability, orchestration, and physical platform. That will be the next set of standards,” he said.

David DeBari, process control engineer for ExxonMobil, commented on the end user experience. “A lot of the technologies we talk about are standards based; they have a lot of appeal. You don’t have to know the proprietary methods if everybody understands the standards.”

From an end user perspective, OPAF members have a range of opinions, DeBari explained. “We have the spectrum. I am out here waving the flag for OPA, but I do have peers that some days wish we would leave it alone because they like it the way it is. Change management is that way,” he said.

ExxonMobil has “been doing prototypes and test beds, and we’re moving to a field trial where the technologies are available,” said DeBari. “We believe we should be adopting some of these tools and techniques that our information technology (IT) friends have been using for years.”

“From a commercial and a business aspect, we must test it to make sure it’s ready, make sure it’s reliable and safe to use on our types of processes. Those challenges are where the evolution is, and the recent momentum in the industry [shows it is] really taking off,” DeBari added. “We’re seeing product from vendors. We’re seeing support from system integrators and vendors. And we’re getting buy-in from many other end users who are waking up to the fact that standards-based architecture is the way of the future.”

Test beds and technology partners

Sharul Rashid, group lead at Petronas, added, “Open process automation is the only solution that has worked for us so far. The value created from it is very obvious. So the next step was to convert the non-believer within my company, my management, because they control the budget. If the budget is not made available to me, I cannot proceed with my test bed. But we were able to convince them of the security behind it. We have to move forward as part of the transformation. We are now moving to the test bed and intend to deploy it by first quarter of 2023.”

“Schneider Electric is all open,” said Tom Clary of Schneider Electric. “We’re very actively involved in the forum to help define and develop the standard, and we’ve put OPAF product on our roadmap already.”

Schneider Electric has an OPAF-compliant distributed control node (DCN) that it co-developed with Intel. “We announced our partnership with Intel in June 2022. This is where we are in our development. It’s on the roadmap, and we will continue to push and continue to stay active in the forum to make sure that this marketplace and this ecosystem becomes viable, and adoption becomes widespread,” said Clary.

Jacqueline Allen from Wood represented the system integration perspective. “We announced at the ARC forum earlier this year that we are a center of excellence for open process automation (OPA).” Being a part of that will allow Wood to develop many of the things a system integrator could offer, with training being one of them.

“We are interested in helping develop more function block libraries,” said Allen. “For the last couple of decades, we’ve established ourselves as a system-independent integrator, and with that comes a lot of clients who are looking to make assessments. We’ve built up a consultancy, a practice around selection of vendor platforms. As our customers are starting to figure out what system they want next, they have already engaged with us on conversations around OPA.”

This feature originally appeared in the ebook Automation 2022 Volume 6: IIoT & Industry 4.0.

About The Author

Jack Smith ([email protected]) is a contributing editor for Automation.com and ISA’s InTech magazine. He spent more than 20 years working in industry—from electrical power generation to instrumentation and control, to automation, and from electronic communications to computers—and has been a trade journalist for 22 years.

Did you enjoy this great article?

Check out our free e-newsletters to read more great articles..