Presented here is a description of the Open Process Automation Standard and a progress report on its implementation by industry
Open Process Automation (OPA) is an end-user company-driven industry movement to transform the industrial control-system market from one that supplies closed, proprietary products to another that supplies open, secure, interoperable systems derived from a standards-based automation architecture. OPA addresses the root causes of end-user pain points. The top three business drivers for end-users companies are the following:
- Increase operational benefits from improved capabilities
- Improve cybersecurity compared to currently available systems
- Reduce the system’s capital and lifecycle costs
OPA is primarily targeted at the chemical process industries (CPI) — continuous, semi-continuous and batch — across multiple industry sectors.
OPA is based on an industry standard (O-PAS) that is being defined by the Open Process Automation Forum of The Open Group (OPAF). The business case for action, mechanisms of value generation, and discussions of stakeholder concerns are documented in the Open Process Automation Business Guide . A more detailed discussion of concerns and next steps towards OPA for end-user and system-integrator companies is provided in the OPA Adoption Guide . (An extension for the OPA Adoption Guide for supplier and service provider companies is currently being written).
To make the business problem real, particularly for end-user readers, one of the specific motivations for the OPA initiative was to find a game-changing improvement to the prospect of hundreds-of-million-dollar costs per manufacturing site for control-system upgrade projects that offered little, if any, return on investment.
In this article, we first provide a brief overview of the Open Process Automation Standard (O-PAS), the business ecosystem, and conformance certification of products to the O-PAS standard. Second, information on the maturity and industry adoption of OPA is presented. Third, an example of a commercially available OPA system, QuickStart from the Coalition for Open Process Automation (COPA), is discussed.
The Open Process Automation Forum was founded in November 2016 and currently consists of 112 member organizations — end user, hardware and software supplier (including all but one of the major distributed control system (DCS) and programmable logic controller (PLC) vendors), and system-integrator companies, as well as several universities. OPAF also has liaison relationships with standards organizations and industry associations, including NAMUR, OPC Foundation, Control System Integrators Association, International Society for Automation, and others.
The OPA reference architecture is presented in Figure 1. The three essential object types in the OPA architecture are (1) Distributed Control Node (DCN) with input/output (I/O) Node, Compute Node and Gateway Node profiles; (2) O-PAS Connectivity Framework (OCF) for networking and data communications; and (3) Advanced Compute Platform (ACP), an on-premise, low-latency, high-availability compute platform with greater CPU and memory resources than typical DCNs.
Industry standard. O-PAS is a “standard of standards,” meaning that existing industry standards are referenced when they are fit-for-purpose. Only if no standard is available or suitable is new standard development undertaken. Table 1 lists the O-PAS Part documents and referenced standards.
Business ecosystem. The business ecosystem for OPA is depicted in terms of stakeholder roles in Figure 2.
The rectangles in Figure 2 depict roles, not companies. A company can play multiple roles in the ecosystem. The blue lines symbolize contractual relationships and loose, cohesive couplings between modules based on open standards.
Conformance certification. O-PAS specifies conformance requirements (normative “shall” statements) that are organized into collections called profiles. An O-PAS product is a hardware or software module consisting of one or more profiles. Particularly for the benefit of suppliers, policies for product conformance certification are specified by OPAF in the O-PAS Certification Policy .
The Open Group is the O-PAS Certification Authority. O-PAS conformance verification testing will be performed by several independent third-party organizations, such as the OPC Foundation, the ISA Security Compliance Institute, and others.
The profiles that are included in the initial round (“Wave 1”) of O-PAS conformance certification are listed in Table 2.
Preliminary testing of O-PAS conformance certification Wave 1 has been underway for about a year with multiple suppliers. This preliminary testing is non-binding. It gives the suppliers the opportunity to vet their products for conformance, and it gives OPAF and the Verification Lab the opportunity to validate the conformance test cases and testing tools.
O-PAS Conformance Certification Wave 1 is scheduled to begin operations in mid-2023.
Indicators of industry adoption
Measuring the effectiveness of innovation is a notoriously difficult thing to do and any rigorous discussion of applying academic theory to realization of the vision for OPA is beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, some practical observations can be made.
After the successful completion of its OPA proof-of-concept project in 2018, ExxonMobil concluded that the major challenge for OPA was supplier and customer business model transformation, not technology factors. With this perspective, let’s consider adoption of O-PAS by suppliers, end users, and system integrator companies as a key performance indicator. Seven broad observations of the current state of industry adoption of O-PAS are made in this section of the article.
Observation 1. O-PAS Version 2.1 Final, published on February 6, 2023, is the fifth release of the standard since initial publication of Version 1.0 in January 2019. Anecdotally, several suppliers have stated that O-PAS V2.1 (Preliminary and Final) are sufficiently specific and complete enough to be the basis for product designs .
Observation 2. OPAF has announced the start-up of formal O-PAS Conformance Certification testing in mid-2023 after an almost two-year “soft opening” with a small group of suppliers who have submitted early versions of O-PAS roadmap products for their own testing and to assist OPAF with checkouts of the verification test cases and tools.
Observation 3. At least nine end-user companies are doing, have done, or have committed plans for OPA prototyping projects of varying degrees of sophistication. Table 3 lists the companies that have publicly announced OPA projects (Yokogawa is the system integrator for four of the projects listed in Table 3).
The largest and most comprehensive project in Table 3 is ExxonMobil’s field trial. It is the company’s third OPA system-building project. The first two were a laboratory proof-of-concept and a prototype that controlled a hydrocarbon processing pilot plant with 140 I/Os [ 17]. The field trial is on a manufacturing facility in Louisiana with 2,500 I/O and about 100 control loops. The OPA system replaces a DCS and several PLCs. The system is currently in construction and is scheduled to be commissioned in 2023.
Observation 4. To help build the emerging market for OPA, ExxonMobil established an on-going “Collaboration Partnership” among the companies listed in Table 3, as well as several others, to exchange non-competitive information about their OPA projects. Such reference exchanges among the early adopter members of an emerging high-tech market are essential to build critical mass and momentum to “cross the chasm” of market adoption to the early majority population .
Observation 5. Five of the seven global major distributed control system (DCS) vendors are active contributors to the OPA Forum. These five companies represent 74% ($44.6 billion) of the total worldwide revenue ($59.9 billion) of all seven companies . While support for OPA is not prominent in the mainstream marketing collateral from the five active contributors, these companies are publishing information about their activities and plans for OPA [20–23].
Many of the OPA fundamental principles and characteristics are being incorporated in products of major DCS vendors . Examples of these are the following:
- Flatter, software-based architecture that democratizes data
- Avoid building other vertical silos of data for reliability or quality (non-operations) applications
- Non-operations applications currently in OT systems that could move to the cloud
- New generation of edge technologies — Linux, hyperconverged infrastructure, other new IT technologies — could be deployed in more critical automation functions
- Zero-trust security — does not depend on the layered protections, grants access on an as-needed basis — designed into the architecture
In the interest of fairness and fullness of discourse, it is worth commenting on two critiques of OPA, as follows:
- Standards give lowest-common-denominator functionality, limits innovation
- A unified software ecosystem that provides much more ease of use and provides for usability of data
To the first critique, it is essential to note that O-PAS specifies interfacesamong modular software and hardware components, not the functional capabilities of the modules. Suppliers can innovate. Suppliers can protect their intellectual property.
On the other hand, this author does share the concern voiced in the second critique. There are two lines of development in OPAF to cite regarding mitigation of the risks of complexity. First, the OPA Forum has done and is doing extensive work to apply technologies and standards that are well developed in Information Technology (IT) — particularly for enterprise systems and cloud computing — for managing and orchestrating software intensive systems-of-systems. O-PAS Part 5 specifies standards for computing system management. Being drafted now for the next O-PAS release is Part 9 that is applying another well-established IT standard for managing software complexity that, to this author’s knowledge, is significantly more sophisticated and powerful than anything that has been used to date in OT service.
Second, much of the work being done by the systems integrators and suppliers involved in the prototyping projects listed in Table 3 is addressing ease-of-use and cohesiveness of the software environment. This work is likely to improve interfaces of the modular components and result in systems-integration methods and licensable technologies to mitigate the risks of software complexity.
Observation 6. New entrants to the industrial control system business ecosystem are emerging and earning contracts from end-user companies for OPA products, systems and services. One such new entrant, a group of companies called the Coalition for Open Process Automation, is discussed in the next section of this article.
Observation 7. End-user companies are starting to issue Requests for Proposals (RFP) that require respondents to address current capability and plans to supply O-PAS-conformant products or O-PAS-based systems. The author’s company has received three such RFPs in the past 10 months.
Example: COPA QuickStart
“If we could buy an OPA system we would,” and “how do we get started with OPA?” are paraphrases of comments and questions that the author has heard from end-user companies over the last couple of years. To address these questions, CPLANE.ai and Collaborative Systems Integration organized a group of companies, named the Coalition for Open Process Automation (COPA), to bring to market an OPA entry-point that is significantly less expensive and resource-intensive than the test-bed projects listed Table 3.
The fourteen companies in the Coalition for Open Process Automation are listed in Table 4. All are members of the OPA Forum. Important to note: COPA is independent of the non-commercial OPA Forum. Collectively, the COPA companies span all the OPA business ecosystem stakeholder roles except for the end user.
In November 2021, the coalition launched COPA QuickStart, a small-scale functional control system and structured training program. The COPA QuickStart system consists of one portable cabinet shown with the hardware component breakdown shown in Figure 3. The COPA QuickStart software components are listed in Table 5.
The structured training program curriculum starts with an introduction and demonstration that is targeted for a broad audience (engineering and management), and then moves on to a course of lectures and hands-on labs teaching content — particularly what’s different with OPA — that spans the lifecycle of a control system.
In teaching the course, we learned that it is difficult for attendees to understand Open Process Automation from a linear reading of the O-PAS standards documents. Therefore, we increased the emphasis on telling the OPA story from a narrative based on the OPA quality attributes documented in the OPA Business Guide that focuses on the “what problems are you solving” questions. Furthermore, we learned that each cohort of attendees has differing degrees of interest in hands-on labs. Accordingly, we adapt the course as we teach it to accommodate the attendees’ needs.
Now, 18 months after the launch of QuickStart, the COPA companies have adapted and expanded the original QuickStart concept into the following three offerings based on feedback from the end-user community:
- Original QuickStart system and training
- Projects for small-scale, on-production O-PAS based systems
The fifth release of the O-PAS standard, Version 2.1 Final, was published in February 2023. Multiple companies have expressed opinions that O-PAS V2.1 Final is now sufficiently specific and complete enough to be the basis for product designs.
The OPA business ecosystem is coalescing and strengthening such that multiple, simultaneous OPA prototyping projects are underway in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. At least nine end-user companies have done or are doing OPA prototyping projects.
The first wave of independent certification of products for conformance to the O-PAS standard is starting up now and is expected to be operational in mid-2023.
Seven indicators of industry adoption of OPA are reported in this article. Among the indicators is the appearance of requirements for O-PAS conformance in Requests for Proposals from end-user companies.
Both incumbent DCS vendors and new entrant companies are stepping up to perform the system-integrator role in the emerging OPA business ecosystem.
Edited by Gerald Ondrey
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R. Donald Bartusiak is president of Collavorative Systems Integration, Inc. (2608 Briarcrest Dr., Austin, TX 78704; Email: [email protected]) and co-chair of The Open Process Automation Forum of The Open Group. In October 2020, he retired as chief engineer, Process Control for ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, with 33 years of experience. From 1977 to 1984, he was a research engineer for Bethlehem Steel. At ExxonMobil, he implemented real-time artificial intelligence, linear and nonlinear model predictive control, and real-time optimization applications. From the mid-1990s, he held supervisory or senior technical positions responsible for instrumentation, process analyzers, control systems, and control applications. From 2000 to 2002, he was adjunct professor at Rice University. He is a member of IEEE, ISA and AIChE, and has earned several awards, including (most recently), the Control Engineering Practice Award of the American Automatic Control Council. Bartusiak received a B.S.Ch.E. degree from the University of Pennsylvania and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in chemical engineering from Lehigh University. He has published 10 journal articles and is co-inventor on five patents.
For more on this topic, see “Open Process Automation is Gaining Sustainable Momentum,” by Kevin Finan, Chem. Eng., pp. 39–41, January 2023, which is available at www.chemengonline.com.