Introducing the Open Process Automation Forum. Finally.

Jan. 4, 2017
ExxonMobil has spent a lot of its own energy convincing the automation community that there is a need for a standards-based control architecture. Now, under the umbrella of The Open Group, a new member forum promises to deliver on that vision.

A new year represents a fresh start for many individuals. It’s a chance to forget the missteps of the past and express optimism about the opportunities ahead. For process manufacturers, New Year’s resolutions mean finally finding a way to extract more value from their control systems.

This past year we’ve heard a lot from folks at ExxonMobil who have been on a crusade to get vendors to collaborate on an open architecture that is modular, interoperable and scalable. Well, looks like automation suppliers have been listening and they are willing to cooperate with ExxonMobil and the other manufacturers jumping on the open standards bandwagon. More importantly, it seems that suppliers are willing to work with their competitors.

Here’s the big news: 2017 marks the kick off of the Open Process Automation Forum, a working group within The Open Group, a vendor- and technology-neutral industry consortium. The new Open Process Automation Forum is focused on developing a standards-based, secure and interoperable process control architecture that can be leveraged across multiple industries including oil and gas, petrochemical, mining and metals, pulp and paper, food and beverage, pharmaceutical and utilities.

The concept itself is not new, as it is already playing out in The Open Group’s IT4IT Forum, which is building a vendor-neutral reference architecture for managing the business of IT. Similarly, The Open Group’s Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) is defining approaches for using open standards with avionics systems.

Having seen these other initiatives, ExxonMobil approached The Open Group and, since last March, they’ve been working together on building a “coalition of the willing,” culminating in the first meeting of the minds this past November.

In attendance at that first meeting were 57 individuals from 30 different organizations, many of which have already joined the Forum, including ABB, Aspen Technology, BASF, Dow Chemical, Emerson Process, Inductive Automation, Merck & Co., Schneider Electric, Siemens, Shell, Yokogawa and more.

At that initial meeting, there were a few important takeaways, including:

  • There are common pain points spanning multiple sectors such as aging control systems and the need for more rapid technology insertion, which the proposed standards effort can address.
  • There are common pain points shared by suppliers in current business models.
  • The supplier community is willing to work collaboratively on an open standard for process control.
  • The participants had a common understanding that a “win-win” outcome providing benefits to end users and suppliers is essential, and the members of the Forum want to deliver on this.

During the meeting, the scope of the standards was discussed, and interim co-chairs of the Forum were appointed, including Don Bartusiak of ExxonMobil and Trevor Cusworth of Schneider Electric. In addition, workgroups were formed for business, enterprise architecture and the technical standard.

There is also an ongoing call to action to manufacturers, suppliers, academics, system integrators and others who want to help influence the direction of the standards development, which current Forum participants are calling a “renaissance” that will be transformational to the process industry.

According to the Forum website, as of early this month there were 93 members—and growing—as the organization prepares for its official launch at The Open Group San Francisco meeting and again during the ARC Industry Forum meeting in early February.

So we are starting off 2017 on a great foot with high hopes and positive expectations. But as with any New Year’s resolution, it takes commitment, accountability and follow through to get results. Now the hard work begins.