Something truly innovative is underway in the heavy process industry. For the first time since the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) was established in 2017, five global industry leaders are joining forces with ExxonMobil to deploy a new era for open process automation solutions in one of its production facilities.
This partnership with ExxonMobil is exciting for two reasons. First, Schneider Electric is playing a big role in this vendor-agnostic field trial to offer solutions for architectural challenges that are facing all industries. Secondly, this field trial will show how co-innovation breeds next-generation automation, a long-term vision we believe will help all industrial segments.
Members of OPAF, which include leaders like Koch Industries, Dow Chemicals, and Saudi Aramco, are pushing for a new process automation architecture based on open standards and designed with a vendor-agnostic mindset—a plug n’ produce philosophy where multiple companies have developed products that are portable, secure, and interoperable.
In the past, when companies wrote an application, they wrote it for their own system. That meant legacy ties to hardware with a rip-and-replace solution once the hardware became obsolete. Being locked into one vendor with these legacy systems often come with an array of cybersecurity challenges, too, which may lack detection of the latest cyber threats.
But Schneider Electric and other industry leaders are challenging that legacy approach – building an open architecture for heavy process industries to move past the rigidity of the legacy approach.
The ‘glue’ of next-gen automation
Historically, when crises arise, we have seen people come together for the common good. The 2015 Paris Climate Accord, for example, saw nearly 200 countries rally to strengthen climate action, reduce emissions, and limit the 1.5-degree Celsius increase across the world.
So, a few years ago when ExxonMobil sought to install an open process automation system in one of its noncritical production facilities, it called on industry leaders to join forces. This ultimate team-up includes Schneider Electric, Intel, Dell, VMware, and Yokogawa.
The goal? Co-innovation. I believe that when global industry leaders rally and innovate together, the possibilities become endless. Ultimately, with an open process automation system, the end-user benefits in becoming energy-efficient, improving workforce productivity, and future-proofing its architecture. All of this while meeting sustainability goals and increasing profitability. No one must choose either or. We’ve seen that when organizations embrace digital transformation, utilizing open process automation, both workforce productivity and financial performance improvement
For this field trial, each vendor is offering components using open Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) standards. Different components from different companies interoperate with each other, running together in harmony.
Here’s a quick overview of who is providing what in this advanced computing platform:
ExxonMobil – The needs, requirements, and specifications
Yokogawa – System integration and support
Schneider Electric – EcoStruxure™ Automation Expert Soft dPAC Runtime, a software package that is fully compatible with any operating system that helps to simplify the deployment and maintenance of control strategies
Intel – The Intel Xeon Processors for provisioning and security
Dell – The EMC hyper-converged infrastructure and networking switches
VMware – Tools for management and virtualization
This ensemble is the first of its kind with Schneider Electric EcoStruxure architecture at the heart of this endeavor. The glue.
Adopting a new architecture for the demands of tomorrow
Co-innovation is key to the vision shared by OPAF and Schneider Electric. Creating interoperable process architecture not only expands the ecosystem of Industry 4.0, but also adds value for end users across multiple segments by forcing suppliers to create industry-leading products. With this ExxonMobil field trial, we see the promise of application benefits across all segments, beyond just Energy and Chemicals, but also for Mining and Metals, Wastewater Management, and more.
With this open approach, hardware, software, and applications are fully decoupled and evolve independently during the lifecycle of a plant. This is beneficial because it preserves the high level of investment made in a company’s intellectual property (IP).
Openness drives innovation. As the ExxonMobil field trial begins on the Gulf Coast in early 2023, we’ll prove that when we work together, we can meet the industry demands of tomorrow.
And for a hands-on look, ExxonMobil is currently inviting interested parties to its testbed facility in Houston to learn more about the advanced computing platform planned for the field trial. Regardless of your industry segment, I encourage you to experience the commercial viability of this new, open architecture.