ExxonMobil Makes Another Push to Overhaul Process Automation

Jan. 21, 2016
In its latest move, ExxonMobil has signed on Lockheed Martin as system integrator for a next-generation automation system for refining and chemical facilities.

ExxonMobil has been on a crusade for a couple years now. Sandy Vasser and others have been getting up in front of audiences for every major automation user group meeting—Honeywell, Rockwell, Emerson, Siemens, the list goes on—to challenge traditional automation technologies and practices. The goal is to significantly shorten project cycle times and lower capital investments.

In what appears to be a big move to noteworthy changes in process automation execution, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering (EMRE) has named Lockheed Martin as system integrator in the early-stage development of a next-generation open and secure automation system for process industries. Lockheed Martin will be responsible for the advanced processing architecture, working with EMRE in the pre-development phase.

The oil major has been putting substantial pressure on the automation suppliers to make not just incremental improvements but innovative changes to the way things are done. It’s the push that has been behind the configurable I/O that has become widespread in one form or another across industry. It’s been behind reducing the number of junction boxes, marshaling cabinets and controller I/O cabinets. And it’s been behind the move to “take automation off the critical path of project execution” through programs like Honeywell’s LEAP (Lean Execution of Automation Projects) and Emerson’s Project Certainty.

ExxonMobil knows it can’t get this done on its own, so it’s been rallying the troops, not only putting the screws to the automation suppliers, but making sure other customers get behind the effort, knowing that a solution made just for ExxonMobil is not the way to go. “If we can get everyone adopting a similar approach, we’ll benefit from that,” said Vasser, facilities instrumentation and electrical manager for ExxonMobil Development, at a Siemens Oil & Gas conference a couple years ago. “Our suppliers will get better at it, and we’ll get a better solution.”

ExxonMobil is looking to Lockheed Martin to help it make changes in its refining and chemical manufacturing processes. “We continue to challenge ourselves by looking at existing processes and finding new and more innovative ways of working using both internal and external ideas,” said Vijay Swarup, EMRE’s vice president of R&D, in a statement. “This breakthrough initiative could help transform refining and chemical manufacturing through the use of high-speed computational components, modular software, open standards, and the use of autonomous tools.”

Lockheed Martin and ExxonMobil will be working toward architecture standards that ensure modularity, interoperability, extensibility, reuse, portability and scalability. The goal is to design a new architecture that will control and optimize refining and chemical manufacturing facilities while enabling future equipment and information services such as preventive maintenance and fleet optimization.

“Lockheed Martin is a leader in providing open architecture and secure processing solutions for our customers,” said Paula Hartley, vice president of advanced product solutions for Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training. “The advantages of our secure commercial processing experience combined with the expertise in applying open architecture standards provides a low-risk solution for the ExxonMobil process control requirements.”

The automation platform will provide several sources of value for industrial manufacturers, according to the press release from the two companies. The platform can be designed with intrinsic cybersecurity protection that is adaptable to emerging threats. The architecture will also promote competition and innovation in the marketplace. Lastly, interoperability, modularity and adherence to industry standards will lower the cost of integrating new system components or replacing legacy platforms.

Lockheed Martin is conducting an Industry Day this coming Tuesday to solicit requests for information (RFIs) from industry in support of the new automation system. Companies interested in additional information on the Industry Day and RFIs can contact Dennis Stevens at [email protected].

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