Satishkumar Balasubramanian elaborates upon open, interoperable, and secure process automation architecture for industrial control systems.

The zeal to disrupt Industrial Automation world seems to get closer to realisation. Whatever ExxonMobil listed as issues with current DCS architectures and the wish to have an open interoperable standards based secure automation system gained momentum across end-user community as well as technology companies that were waiting for an opportunity to tap into the conservative IA world! Open Group's Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) has provided a platform for all these people, including current DCS vendors who are forced to change and retain the market share to arrive at the holistic goal of "open interoperable standards based secure automation system". The Business Guide is published and covers the business scenarios calling for Open Automation. Darren Blue (Intel) and Eugene Tung (Merck) have shared their views on the thought process behind the Business Guide while participating as principle authors of the Business Guide.

As with any disruption, there are critiques talking about why OPAF will not work. Emerson has dropped out of this initiative and it is reported that Emerson believes users would prefer to rely on 1-2 strategic suppliers against thousands of smart devices integrated by a few protocols and a (hopefully) very savvy system integrator. Also, there are counter arguments against the adjacent industry initiative success story, Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) where the customer is a single user, US Government.

The Business Guide is trying to address the concerns in Q&A format under a separate section on misconceptions about OPAF. Also, there are details about the different roles expected in the OPA ecosystem which would call for a completely different thought process on how automation systems are perceived now.

It would be interesting to see how these transform into in technical as well as business context. On the technical side, the question of how open is Open Automation is interesting. As we breakdown the components to make open system, the level to which it is broken down for openness/interoperability, decides on the complexity and adaptability. Here is a working draft on the high level view shared for public view that talks about Distributed Computing Platform (DCP), Distributed Computing Framework (DCF), Open Connectivity Framework (OCF), the application framework and standard configuration part of the DCF. I believe it will go through several iterations to arrive at the optimal openness and interoperability and a lot of give and take between the wish (dream) and reality to achieve commercial viability and acceptance. This is not difficult as I see good amount of progress in the simulation domain – CAPE-OPEN interoperable standard for simulation components. Probably OPAF will not take that long considering the parallel initiative by ExxonMobil on building a prototype with Lockheed Martin.

On the business side, the System Integrator/Subsystem integrator roles are going to be crucial. I am sure no plant owner wants to run behind several vendors to keep his plant running. There can be a transformation of existing DCS suppliers to be system integrator (they are already doing it with mostly their own components) and also opportunities for new system integrators large enough to gain trust of the customers.

More details are available from the ARC Forum presentations* including the update on POC by Lockheed Martin. Go through the session discussions to get more updates to witness the disruption in IA world!


Satishkumar Balasubramanian is a Sr Member of ISA working with the Industrial Automation domain for past two decades. He is currently working as a Domain Specialist in Yokogawa IA Technologies, Bangalore. Prior to it, he was working with Invensys and Honeywell on Project Engineering and Development groups in the areas of Safety, Security & Advanced Applications. He has a Masters in Process Control from IIT-Madras, Chemical Engineering department. He is also a member of the ETD 18 sectional committee of BIS, the National Standards body of India dealing with Industrial Process Measurement & Control.

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