Open Process Automation status update

The Open Process Automation group, part of the Open Group, continues to work on standards to help enable interoperable process controls. ExxonMobil Research & Engineering, BASF, Saudi Aramco, and ARC Advisory Group offered a progress update in February.

By Mark T. Hoske, CFE Media May 10, 2018

The Open Process Automation (OPA) initiative, an effort to make process controls more interoperable, was discussed by ARC Advisory Group, Saudi Aramco, Open Process Automation, BASF, and ExxonMobil. The following experts reviewed progress as of the 2018 ARC Forum, in February.

  • Harry Forbes is analyst at ARC Advisory Group.
  • Abdullah Alkhalifah is senior engineering consulting at Saudi Aramco Engineering Services.
  • David DeBari is OPA program prototype lead engineer.
  • Michael Krauss is senior automation manager, control systems technology, at BASF.
  • Don Bartusiak is chief engineer, process control, at ExxonMobil Research & Engineering. 

Manufacturing software changes

Forbes cited a major automation supplier CEO who said customers do not want to live in a plant where they have to manage application software across thousands of devices. Vendors are doing that as they replace switches by virtualizing them.

It’s a time of breakthroughs, not incremental improvements.

Software is eating the world. Cloud software is eating the enterprise, the edge, and the embedded space. Cloud technology can see and interact with lower-level systems. Software is becoming smaller and more secure. Software development convergence is happening at open-source speed. Software development is flattening what historically has been in different classes of software development.

State-of-the-art cloud software development and software operations (DevOps) technology will penetrate embedded system and embedded industrial automation, development, deployment, orchestration and monitoring, and updates will elevate end-user expectations for industrial automation software. Software management at scale and over the software lifecycle are requirements shared by the cloud, enterprise, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and OPA.

"Keep an eye on cloud. It’s coming down to where we live, work, and manufacture," Forbes said.

Open automation

Alkhalifah said the OPA initiative aims to enable production of data-centric, standards-based, open, secure, and interoperable process automation systems.

Alkhalifah is responsible for process automation and helps develop standards and technologies to address process challenges.

The Saudi Aramco process automation system (PAS) lifecycle management program has a long-term objective of an open data-centric process automation concept to enable technologies, industrial initiatives and standards, said Alkhalifah. In 2010, faced with obsolescence, the company looked at its supplier model, spare parts management, in-house technical support, and reliability driven replacement, all of which presented challenges with a long-term view of using proprietary architectures.

Doing so pointed to obsolescence at various levels: inputs and outputs (I/Os), devices, controllers, and human-machine interfaces (HMI) all with different lives for expiration.

A new plan sought to eliminate multiple layers and make a flat network, decouple controllers, and replace the control system with a reliable communication framework.

The new solution sought to avoid wholesale replacements and distribute control capabilities throughout the architecture. The safety system at the bottom would not be touched.

I/O modules were I/O only and connected to a real-time databus. Controllers were hardware and software-based.

These attributes require a data-centric, open standard, using a publish/subscribe communication protocol, servers for HMI and controller virtualization, a high availability computing platform, interchangeable basic I/O, hardware- or software-based controllers, built-in cybersecurity, and application portability.

After joining the Open Group, Saudi Aramco has been working on an in-house system for the end of 2018. The company solicited participation in a demonstration system to help with the learning curve. Based on the learning curve, the company began to realize that using a data distribution service is not as simple as expected. A lot of time is required forming an information model.

Saudi Aramco is committed to working with the Open Automation Forum on a data-centric, publish/subscribe collaborate automation platform based on open technology. The hope is to preserve current investments and use commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies and provide mechanisms for easier integration or partial replacement. 

OPA program status

DeBari gave an OPA status update. OPA creates a system of systems puts a distributed control system as just another peer among other elements in the OPA architecture vision, rather than a top of layer hierarchy.

A running proof-of-concept system uses a real-time advanced computing platform. It controls a simulated process unit using proportional-integral-derivative (PID) and constraint control. The demonstration took I/O and logic and broke it into three distributed control nodes (DCNs). Because most process controls run faster than the application requirements, this slows down to 100 milliseconds, deemed as fast as would be needed to run anything.

Interoperability’s definition and objective: Ability of two components to exchange meaningful information and interoperation among vendors to allow integration of the best components and to foster competition and innovation in the marketplace, permitting customization and fit-for-purpose solutions.

Interchangeability is when a component can be replaced with another from another vendor without modification. A Raspberry Pi 3 can be swapped with an Intel prototype DCN. It was redeployed without changing IEC 61499 control logic and without re-engineering the control logic. (IEC is the International Electrotechnical Commission, a global standards organization.)

Configuration and application portability allows sharing configurations from one application to another. Preserve asset owner’s custom configuration, intellectual property (IP), and aid the use of leading-edge capabilities, allowing integration of best-in-class components.

Application development flexibility would have an app store concept to support use of best-in-class algorithms, open the market to innovation, and preserve custom configurations.

ExxonMobil’s vision for OPA is to have technical readiness by 2021. More participants are encouraged, and the organization seeks partners for collaboration and field trials because ExxonMobil’s needs may differ from other users.

New approach needed

Krauss at BASF offered a perspective on NAMUR with help from Don Bartusiak, ExxonMobil and the Open Group. NAMUR is a German acronym for the user association of automation technology in the process industries.

Krauss asked, "Why is a new approach needed?"

This effort is the culmination of 20 years of megatrends: fieldbuses, asset management, computer-aided engineering (CAE) for integrated engineering, distributed control systems, standard data exchange for CAE and DCS, and SAP-R/3 integration of DCS among others. "More disruptive changes are needed because we’re not there yet," Krauss said. "We’re lacking platforms interfaces and data models."

NAMUR Open Architecture is proven and accepted, highly available, and designed for mature systems for sustainable operations with a long lifecycle. The architecture is not open; if technologies are integrated slowly or not at all, there’s no room for trial and error. Will the industry lose the ability to innovate? Open architecture covers the field level, basic automation, manufacturing execution systems, and enterprise resource planning.

The module-type package (MTP) is a standard nonproprietary description of modules for process automation. The MTP addresses plant engineering and the process control level.

Bartusiak said the groups are working on finding common ground around user needs and coalescing efforts in one reference architecture. Compared to the traditional OSI model, this collapses levels 1-3.

NAMUR functional requirements can be supported by the OPA architecture and gateways can be provided to existing (legacy) devices. The difference is the trajectory to the ultimate solution. The Open Group, ZVEI (the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association) and NAMUR agreed on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in October 2017 to share work documents in process. Goal is common promotion and internationalization of standards into IEC standards. There’s no conflict, he suggested; the groups are coalescing to a critical mass for change.

Bartusiak also mentioned there’s a critical mass among end users for change and a wider spirit of compromise and cooperation, with determination to learn from earlier failed efforts, such as MAP (before its time) and fieldbus wars (which had many vendors protecting their own interests).

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

KEYWORDS: Interoperable controls, Open Process Automation

Open Process Automation, part of the Open Group, is working on interoperable process controls.

NAMUR is working on a similar effort.

Cooperation seems likely to increase after a MOU.


Preserving investments in automation seems likely to increase efficiency, add functionality, and speed upgrades.


If reading from the digital edition, click on the headline for more resources, including the following. Open process automation leads to innovation: Innovation helps distinguish between a leader and follower and can take companies and users into directions they never anticipated, according to Kenny Warren of ExxonMobil during his keynote speech at the ARC Industry Forum