Moving toward automation interoperability

More than 30 organizations were involved in the next version of the Open Process Automation Standard (O-PAS). A secure, standard and interoperable process control system architecture is the goal.

By Mark T. Hoske March 8, 2021


Learning Objectives

  • Open Process Automation standards are underway. 
  • A smarter process control architecture would allow interoperability and portability of code across devices. 
  • Cybersecurity is built into the Open Process Automation Standard. 

Commercially available, interoperability of process control system hardware and software is the goal by the 2025 to 2026 timeframe. ExxonMobil and seven collaboration partners (Aramco Services, BASF, ConocoPhillips, Dow, Georgia Pacific, Linde and Reliance Industries Ltd.) are working in the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF).

The ExxonMobil testbed in The Woodlands, Texas, ahead of field trials followed by 2025 to 2026 commercial deployment of a standards-based, secure and interoperable distributed control system (DCS) infrastructure, according to Dominic (Nick) Clausi, vice president of engineering, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering at ARC Forum by ARC Advisory Group. More than 100 members are involved with OPAF, four have announced a development system, more than 20 hardware and software suppliers, and five major DCS suppliers.

Clausi said the platform is expected to help drive innovation. Efforts began in 2016.

O-PAS V2.1 is ready for comments

According to an ARC Advisory Group summary, from the session “Open Process Automation: Where will end users find value?” Harry Forbes, research director, automation, ARC Advisory Group, said:

  • O-PAS V2.1 is nearly ready for preliminary release; it contains critical elements describing the information exchange, function blocks, and interface execution engines as well as physical platform standard and security that will allow suppliers to build products to the standard.
  • O-PAS Version 3 will address application portability and orchestration.
  • Work is underway to deploy the first wave of conformance certification to reassure the market on 100% conformance to the specification. OPAF is moving ahead with an O-PAS adoption workshop to launch the marketplace and ecosystem.
  • End users have begun development efforts to build O-PAS based systems including prototype, test bed systems to prepare for field trials, and to demonstrate the value of the system in their industry. The tests are evaluating multiple prototype distributed control node (DCN) products.

A smarter process control architecture

A DCN allows applications to reside where they make the most sense.

Dave Emerson, director, U.S. Technology Center, Yokogawa, described O-PAS as a standard of standards, referencing eight standards in its seven parts: O-PAS Part 1 Technical architecture, Part 2 Security, Part 3 Profiles, Part 4 Connectivity framework, Part 5 System management, Part 6, Information and exchange models, and Part 7 Physical platform.

Those new to the industry might assume standards mean that software function blocks of code from difference suppliers should work in any hardware logic device. Think again, suggested Emerson. That type of interoperability and interchangeability across vendors, platforms, devices and systems, is among the goals of the O-PAS standard.

Interoperability across vendors: “I’ll buy it”

The O-PAS v2.1 update delivers control functionality, function blocks and alarms, and cybersecurity has been applied to all 12 parts. The group is accepting feedback from those interested.

By using the new structures, a modular system can be setup with existing brownfield applications, then switched over, simplifying integration, according to Jacco Opmeer, program manager, DCS strategies, Shell Global Solutions. Opmeer said it’s very difficult to add technology to existing systems, but that will change.

Julie Smith, global automation and process control leader, DuPont, said products are under development. “Whoever makes it, I will buy it,” she said. “We want and need this technology.”

Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

KEYWORDS: Open automation, standards, interoperability

Open Process Automation standards are underway.

A smarter process control architecture would allow interoperability and portability of code across devices.

Cybersecurity is built into the Open Process Automation Standard.


Connecting automation with fewer integration challenges creates more value more quickly. See page 39: “Interoperability best practices, integration, automation, controls.”

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.