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SUPCON at Column Interview of Open Automation Technology Forum —— Prospects of Open Process Automation Technology

Column Interview of Open Automation Technology Forum -- Industrial automation is undergoing rapid technological changes, where scalable and interoperable architecture is gaining more and more attention, and companies in the traditional process industry are turning their eyes to open automation technology. Enabled by advanced technologies such as cloud, IIoT, and Al, standards-based and open digital architecture injects innovative vitality into traditional process automation technologies. Process Industry specially planned the Open Automation Technology Forum column, inviting experts in the field of open automation technology to shed light on the progress of open automation technology and how to facilitate industry development. Two experts, Mohan Kalyanaraman and Teo Kim Hock from The Open Group, a open process automation forum participated in this technical forum.

This paper was published in PROCESS, No. 11, 2021. See more at 

微信图片_20211124132911.jpg Mr. Teo Kim Hock, SUPCON International Business Vice President

微信图片_202111241329111.jpg Mr. Mohan Kalyanaraman, ExxonMobil Research&Engineering

PROCESS: What is "open process automation" (OPA)? How do the market participants in the automation industry think of this concept?

Teo Kim Hock: In an era of rapid development of IT technology, digitization, networking and intelligent technologies of smart factories are gaining momentum. However, the closure and proprietary of traditional industrial control systems have become the biggest bottleneck for technological development, which greatly hindered the upgrade and migration of DCS/PLC, and the in-depth and efficient integration of OT and IT. Against this backdrop, it is particularly important to build an open, interoperable, and securely designed process automation system architecture. The Open Process Automation TM Forum (OPAF) under The Open Group is based on building a system that can ensure that the future automation system meets true heterogeneous standards, and it also provides inherent security, multi-vendor interoperability, and a simple path of system migration, while enabling end users to obtain new value and profits from the operations under control.

The Open Group is a global consortium leading developer-neutral open technology standards and certifications. Its Open Process Automation Forum aims to create a standards-based, secure and interoperable process control architecture. The forum has over 120 members, covering industries such as oil and gas, petrochemicals, specialty chemicals, pharmaceuticals, papermaking, mining, and metal smelting. The forum is committed to designing and formulating a set of software and hardware components composed of a process control layer to develop the standards and business practices required for interoperability, modularity and portability. It focuses on how to use the latest distributed cloud computing technology and virtualization technology to redefine a 20-year-long architecture that is becoming increasingly obsolete, as well as DCS and PLC and advanced control and MES that are closely related to operation optimization. It breaks down the existing industrial control system architecture and realizes a flat network and interactive mode, promoting componentization and standardization. The forum identified the most important quality attributes (QA) in the open architecture system. The key quality attributes include: interoperability, portability, modularity, interchangeability, security, standard conformance, affordability, usability, and discoverability.

The goal of OPA is to standardize the functions of L1 and L2 of ISA95, including the basic input and output of field devices and instruments, as well as the functional blocks that perform adjustment control. At present, these functions are completed by proprietary DCS and PLC, with a scale of about 100 to 1000 function blocks of PID loops. While OPAF believes that more but smaller edge devices can be used as process controllers, each of which can control as few as one or two loops, and in fact, they are providing micro-services of process automation. The HMI functions of any DCS and PLC systems used in today's factories, the operation functions of advanced control algorithms, and the functions of MES can all be realized in an open software environment using a virtual system composed of servers. That is to say, the next-generation control system will be replaced by these new systems consisting of virtual servers and a number of automated edge devices with sufficiently low requirements on computational resources and storage resource.

The OPA concept has went viral in the industry and had a far-reaching impact. It has attracted much attention from various scientific research institutions, suppliers and end users in the industrial control field.  The OPA concept adapts to the development trend of technology, solves the problems of OT/IT integration, and creates value for end users, ensuring a sustainable business model for all stakeholders in the process control automation ecosystem, and achieving a "win-win" result for all. Large automation control system suppliers and R&D institutions have joined the alliance to participate in the research and promotion of the OPA architecture.



PROCESS: Against the current backdrop, what are the breakthroughs and updates of OPA standards application across the world?

Mohan Kalyanaraman (ExxonMobil Research&Engineering) : At present, the forum has released versions1.0, 2.0, 2.1 of O-PASTM Standard and a series of supporting application guides and white papers. O-PAS standard version 1.0 describes interoperability, while version 2.0 describes configuration portability and control functions; Version 3.0 will solve the issues of physical platform, orchestration, and application portability. The forum business working group and the enterprise architecture working group are discussing how to facilitate industry adoption, create market conditions, and deploy products for end users. At the same time, the forum continues to collect end users' pain points in the production process, as well as the needs of application portability, physical standards, and orchestration elements.

PROCESS: What is the current stage of OPA Standard application?

Teo Kim Hock: At present, OPA standard application is in the stage of iterative improvement and pilot application.

I. Iteration upgrade of OPA Standard

Comprehensively develop a new series of O-PAS Standard based on selecting effective applicable existing industrial standards, and the overall plan is divided into 8 parts. The OPAF Forum hopes to release a new version every year to promote the recognition and adoption of OPA in the industry, prompting automation suppliers to engage in development of new products, and give feedback on technical opinions, as well as the opinions of end users.

II. Prototype system and test bed construction

Providing the initial impetus for OPAF, Exxon Mobil continues to invest in this technology, and conduct experiments on open automation in its own laboratory and test bed. The OPAF proof-of-concept system was implemented by Exxon Mobil, system integrators Lockheed Martin and Wood. It includes a real-time advanced computing platform (Dell EMC) supporting IEC61499 runtime controller, HMI, historical data storage, etc., and uses OPC UA real-time Ethernet (provided by Matrikon, Canada) to connect distributed control nodes (DCN), intelligent I/O, operation consoles, security protection systems, and enterprise information systems. The system basically realizes interoperability, interchangeability or substitutability, portability of configuration and application, and flexibility of application development. For a system composed of hardware and software products provided by more than a dozen suppliers, the interoperability between products is implemented in accordance with standards, without the need for conversion through gateways or software; Components of the same type in the system can be individually and freely substituted between suppliers without modifying the underlying logic program.

In 2019, Yokogawa Electric Corporation announced that it has been selected by Exxon Mobil Corporation as an open process automation (OPA) system integrator, responsible for establishing an OPA test platform collaboration center. The center is located in Woodland, Texas, and will house test benches used to evaluate candidate components and standards. The development and experimentation carried out on the test platform will drive Exxon Mobil Corporation’s progress towards establishing a standards-based, open, safe, and highly interoperable process control architecture. Exxon Mobil will use the test platform to evaluate candidate components and standards to provide a basis for using OPA technology in industrial field testing.

In addition, a project to define a next-generation automation system was launched in the United States, and it is named Federal Automation Logic Control on Open Network Systems (FALCONS). This system will make it a reality to obtain any information (including historical information) from any resource and any device anywhere, thus optimizing situational awareness and environmental awareness. The structure of the system is built on the basis of distributed control node (DCN) and single channel I/O module, supporting real-time application processing and real-time interface with other network protocols. The system is composed of many DCNs with or without I/O, and one cloud-enabled DCN executing centralized applications. There are thousands of DCN in total.


PROCESS: At the business level, what value can companies realize by practicing open automation technology standards? What are problems and challenges that may possibly arise during the advancing process?

Teo Kim Hock: Currently, the hardware and software that constitute many control systems in service are proprietary and closed, and the maintenance and upgrade costs are expensive. Therefore, once a partial upgrade or integration with third-party components is required, it will bring great technical risks and higher costs. Especially in the current situation when IT technology is rapidly and deeply penetrated and integrated into all aspects of enterprise operation and management, these control systems may cause huge risks and hidden dangers due to lacking of intrinsic information security. At the business level, practicing open automation technology standards can bring enterprises the following values:

1) Build a completely open, interoperable, and portable architecture system, enabling seamless connection and interconnection of the control systems and data between a wide array of suppliers;

2) Unify the needs of end users, suppliers and integrators, and jointly develop and consolidate the open standards, best practices and models required to realize this vision;

3) Support and maintain an open system structure and specifications through a complete conformance certification program;

4) Easily integrate first-class components to provide timely access to advanced performance;

5) Use an adaptive and built-in security model to ensure secure and open built-in connection;

6) Procurement of consistent components with modular integration certification and apply them to the system to meet the needs of end users;

7) Use open configuration and information models to accelerate application development;

8) Significantly ease the difficulty of future replacement and the life cycle cost of the system.

At the same time, the following problems and challenges may be encountered in the process of OT/IT integration.

1) Challenges from design and operation and maintenance habits of traditional automation system

The OPA architecture will bring about disruptive changes to existing industrial control system architecture and the traditional thinking of practitioners, causing confusion and incomprehension from industrial control system design, operation and maintenance services, and end users. Especially the integration of OT and IT technology breaks down the organizational structure design inside traditional factory and makes the information center and the instrument control department to work together or even merge into one, and all these factors will cause difficulties to and hinder the promotion of OPA.

2) Issues of real-time capability and certainty

The advancement of OPA’s open architecture will lead to the integration of multiple networks and business and control of the operation of real-time and non-real-time business flows on the network, leading to issues of real-time capability and certainty. Therefore, TSN-based wired/wireless integrated control network technology will be imperative.

3) System security risks

In recent years, network security incidents have emerged one after another, such as Stuxnet, ransomware, mining virus, etc. There are more and more network attacks against industrial facilities, and the problem of network security cannot be ignored. The advancement of OPA will accelerate the integration of IT and OT, and the open interconnection of industrial control systems will further worsen network security.

PROCESS: What are successful application cases in the process industry?

Mohan Kalyanaraman: End users take the lead in promoting the development of O-PAS standards. While the standards are being formulated, member companies are constantly testing and improving their prototypes based on the standards. The end-user company also announced a field test plan based on the O-PAS standard and available components. The following lists some cases of proof of concept of OPA. In early 2018, Exxon Mobil successfully demonstrated a proof of concept (PoC) by appointing Lockheed Martin as a system integrator.

The PoC integrated components from 10 different vendors into an operating system. Key quality attribute values for end users, such as interoperability, interchangeability, configuration portability, and application portability have been proven. A high-fidelity dynamic simulation of the combustion furnace is carried out using a heterogeneous component system. A simulator of 37 4-20 mA sensors and final components was used and connected to the IO device.

From 2018 to 2019, Exxon Mobil built a prototype system to control the catalyst testing device in its research facility. The pilot plant is used to test, operate and control the distillate desulfurization plant at air pressure of 8.2 MPa and temperature of 316°C. The Lockheed Martin and Wood serve as system integrators. The device is composed of pump, reactor, heater, flow control and analyzer. The system was successfully launched in January 2020 and has been running until the end of March. It is robust to disturbances caused by pumps and other failures. Currently, Exxon Mobil has established a test platform in cooperation with system integrator Yokogawa Electric Corporation. The system is used to test components according to the O-PAS standard and is ready for field testing at its manufacturing plant.

BASF built a portable O-PAS system, which was demonstrated for the first time at the NAMUR conference in 2019. It includes a water tank, two heaters, four coolers and 12 valves. According to BASF report, the system complies with the O-PAS standard, the NAMUR open architecture and modular packaging concept. Saudi Aramco has announced a cooperation with system integrator Schneider Electric to establish a test bench, declaring that it will use the test bench for learning and testing, and a field test plan is in progress. Georgia-Pacific Corporation also announced the establishment of a demonstration device and a test bench. Dow used to work with partner companies and the University of Michigan to create demonstrations of advanced manufacturing capabilities and deploy cost-saving automation and digital twin capabilities using O-PAS with an open architecture.

PROCESS: What practical problems can OPA standards solve, in the areas of supply chain upgrade, system security and industrial Internet?

Mohan Kalyanaraman: The manufacturing business is at the core of the industrial process. In the current manufacturing architecture, field instruments, sensors, basic controls, and supervisory controls are at the bottom of the hierarchy in terms of accessibility (referred to as Level 1 and Level 2). Although Level 3 Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and Business Process System (Level 4) run on commercial IT hardware, L1 and L2 hardware and software systems are closed and proprietary. Due to closure of the control system, it is difficult to apply new technologies into the control system layer or to the latest available hardware and software. The OPA standard aims to solve this problem through interface standardization so that new hardware or software can be inserted in an easy way. This also allows for the easy movement of data and the control of manufacturing operations to run synchronously with MES and business systems. Due to the flexibility provided by OPA, the systems (business, MES, and control system) can operate in a more coordinated manner, thereby realizing direct adjusting of operations according to business needs, so it is possible to plan to increase productivity, optimize the supply chain, and respond to abnormal external events (such as natural disaster).

People attach great importance to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and are interested in the widespread deployment of wired and wireless sensors directly connected to the cloud. Companies are experimenting with IIoT devices to detect process changes, monitor rotating equipment, and combine them to develop predictive models using AI/ML complex algorithms. The OPA reference architecture supports communication with various field devices (wired and wireless). It also provides data channels for higher-level computing power inside the company or public or private cloud platforms.

Safety is of crucial importance to modern industrial systems. It is safe for the control system constructed with O-PAS components using industry standard protocols. O-PAS requires calibration (if applicable) to meet 62443-4-2 SL2 requirements. When commissioning a new system, the owner-operator is responsible for specifying the level of safety required for the production facility. End users and SI should, in accordance with user specifications and requirements, consult security experts and chapters of the 62443 Standard that are applicable to the system (especially 62443-3-3), configuration, and control system life cycle. Then, the system integrator chooses from the available O-PAS consistency components to construct the system.

For the sake of clarity, O-PAS does not attempt to specify system-level security. The system consists of multiple components, including non-OPAS components and connections and gateways connected to business processes and other systems. We hold the view that standard-based security is very important for determining and setting clear expectations for the market, which allows suppliers and buyers to have a common understanding and thus create a prosperous market.

PROCESS: What is the significance of OPA Standard for the digital transformation and sustainable development of enterprises?

Mohan Kalyanaraman: Companies across the world are intensifying efforts to reduce costs and increase productivity through digital transformation. We have done an enormous amount of work to collect, process and analyze data that spans the entire scope of operations. In addition, they are looking for ways to improve the business sustainability. To achieve these goals, companies are trying to find ways to improve manufacturing efficiency, reduce downtime, deploy autonomous operations, and create flexible operations to respond to changing market conditions. Complex tools such as artificial intelligence and in-depth learning are being used to identify trends, evaluate scenarios using digital twin technology, find methods, and predict failure. However, all these plans rely on seamless access to data and interoperable components, as well as the implementation of corrective actions in workshops, the closed proprietary system provides neither instant access to data, nor an easy way to deploy advanced control applications. Open Process Automation (O-PAS) standardizes the interface and data model, allowing required applications to access data easily. The advanced computing platform in O-PAS will allow the direct deployment of low-latency and high-availability advanced applications. It aligns with the direction of open and interoperable networks, and more and more OT systems must move in this direction in order to truly achieve full digital transformation, improve manufacturing efficiency, and improve sustainability.

PROCESS: What impact will OPA technical standards have on intelligent manufacturing of China?

Teo Kim Hock: The promotion of OPA technical standards will help the real implementation of intelligent manufacturing, accelerate its advancement process and helps achieve high-quality development.

First of all, the advancement of OPA will enable the industrial control system to bid farewell to closure and proprietary and turn to complete opening, thus accelerating the development of intelligent manufacturing. OPA technical standards will promote industrial control systems to move towards openness and interconnection, achieve better scalability and openness, and be equipped with open interfaces for data exchange with information systems, thus fully meeting the various information needs of enterprise information systems, and solving the bottleneck of connection faced by intelligent manufacturing currently, Which helps smart factories realize comprehensive perception of industrial data, data analysis, forecast and early warning, make scientific and informed decisions and achieve intelligent production.

Secondly, the promotion of OPA will help end the situation “where interconnection and control systems are independent and do things in their own way” in smart factories, unify the underlying standards and accelerate the realization of intelligent manufacturing.

At present, there are many types of smart industrial protocols in smart factories, which is independent of each other, making it difficult to realize network collaboration and real-time data interaction. The promotion of OPA can unify the underlying standards, develop common interconnection protocols and standard specifications, and accelerate the implementation of smart manufacturing.

Furthermore, OPA technical standards introduce new technologies such as container to facilitate the technological development of industrial control systems and industrial software. The OPAC technical standard integrates various new technologies such as container, cloud computing, OPC UA, as well as new open development models and processes to help the technical improvement of industrial software and industrial control systems, thereby accelerating the technological improvement of smart factories at an overall level.

In the past few decades, like mature markets in the world, emerging countries and regions including China have basically followed the traditional manufacturing model (such as Purdue model or ISA 95), which is embodied in both physical and logical aspects. The multi-layer model (physical layer and logical layer) makes it difficult for these layers to cross. An important measure in China’s intelligent manufacturing standards and strategy is to promote the establishment of a more open and easier-to-build automation system platform with a high level of interoperability.

The localized implementation of OPA technical standards in China has created a reliable reference standard for Chinese IT and OT personnel. Based on OPA’s reference architecture, experts in the OT field can observe the same cyber-physical system as IT experts, although their perspectives may be quite different. Generally, IT experts believe that a manufacturing system is composed of servers, networks, storage resources, virtual machines, software containers, coordinators, load balancers, and services. Once the production system (in the OT view) is mapped to a set of standardized IT resources, IT and OT will be able to collaborate on intelligent manufacturing at a higher level, and IT software tools and technologies can play its role effectively in all aspects of the manufacturing process. In this way, the native integration of IT/OT can be truly realized, thus accelerating the process of a new paradigm of China’s intelligent manufacturing.

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