Compliance of the Victim: ARC Industry Forum Highlights an Industry in Transition

Compliance of the Victim: ARC Industry Forum Highlights an Industry in Transition

By Bill Lydon, Editor, Automation.com

 “Compliance of the victim”. This concept weighed heavily in mind while sitting in the presentations at the 2017 ARC conference.  “Compliance of the victim”, in the context of the automation industry, means if one is unhappy with automation systems as they exist, and do not take action to help change the industry, one is a compliant victim. These ‘victims’ end up setting themselves up for recurring frustrations, disappointments, and lost opportunities.  Yet, I continually talk with automation system users that express their frustrations with existing systems and the lack of modern and open technology. One ARC Forum presentation - made by Don Bartusiak, Chief Engineer, Process Control ExxonMobil Research & Engineering and Steve Bitar, R&D Program Manager ExxonMobil Research & Engineering - echoed these user frustration, but put forth a vision to avoid a future of victimization. In it, they called users to help shape their future destiny by joining The Open Process Automation Forum. The vison is to be achieved in an open process to define a standards-based, open, secure, and interoperable process control architecture, which will enable manufacturers to achieve greater business value. 

The Time for Change is Now

As Bartusiak noted in his keynote presentation, many current industrial automation industry architectures are built around the Purdue model, which has been successful in its time, but has also been around since the 1970s. Given major modern day advancements in technology and connectivity, however, this model and is increasingly now out of step with the latest system architectures.

Closed Ecosystems Are Causing Problems

One of the major issues, as Don Bartusiak lamented during the presentation, was the lack of open industrial automation application ecosystems. “Just think about how much value you’re getting from all the third-party apps that you can load on your smartphone,” explained Bartusiak, “We can’t do anything like that in our world.”  He continued to describe how the closed ecosystems in today’s industrial automation systems are forcing users to make significant compromises on projects.   This is because closed ecosystems limit the ability of consumers to choose the best solution, instead having to choose only between those applications which are compatible.  In contrast, smartphone users can pick from a wide range of competing applications to find the best fit to requirements. 

The industrial automation industry has dramatically lagged in the adoption of technology and these closed ecosystems have been a major cause of this hesitation. Many vendors have partner programs and interfaces that are promoted as “open”, but these are highly-gated bureaucratically controlled and are still closed ecosystems, limiting participants and solutions.  This situation can still get worse, too, without a strong open standards approach. Many industrial automation companies are introducing Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud architectures that propose to have their own gated ecosystems for third-party applications, each closed architecture continuing to muddle the industry.

World Competitiveness Depends on Open Standards

ARC’s Harry Forbes, Research Director Automation also spoke to this effort in his presentation.  He put forth that the open standards vision is meant to, “Eliminate non-return on investment automation system replacement projects.”  From my view, these money-losing projects are increasingly occurring, because existing system architectures hold back manufacturers from achieving greater flexibility and efficiency, in order to be more competitive and grow in their industries.   Many vendors and users are finding themselves in the velvet rut of still being profitable with the old models of business, and therefore rejecting the need for change. While they are caught in this rut, new competitors, particularly from developing countries, are leveraging newer technologies to be more competitive manufacturers.

Over the last year, I have had discussions with some of the key minds at ExxonMobil, about the projects in 2014 that motivated them into creating the idea for and being the driving force behind the Open Process Automation effort. They came to the realization, during this time, that to compete on a global stage and remain competitive over the next several decades, producers must lower capital cost and improve profitability leveraging technology.  ExxonMobil identified step change improvements in adjacent industries, enabled by open technologies and deployment of significantly higher function software, that have lowered lifecycle cost and deliver higher return on investment. 

The Time is Now: Are You Going to be a Victim?

The Open Process Automation Forum is designed to provide an opportunity for users to help shape the future of the industry, and to be more competitive as manufacturers and producers of products. The Open Process Automation Forum currently has 102 members with the majority being suppliers, system integrators, and consultants.  Steve Bitar, R&D Program Manager ExxonMobil Research & Engineering noted in a presentation that 6 of their 7 major automation suppliers are members of the effort. The full Open Process Automation Forum Members List is available.

There is an common adage that has survived the ages: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. To apply this to automation industry, and the closed ecosystem, either be part of this solution or quit complaining.  

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