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Current Status Of Open Automation

Current Status Of Open Automation

An ecosystem of products that support automation designs and standards from various vendors is being developed by the Process Automation Forum and UniversalAutomation.org.

The OT community has been battling proprietary systems and vendor lock-in for decades, and in the process, it has looked to the IT industry for inspiration for open standards and interoperability precedents that might be applied to its own problems.

There are indications that open automation standards and technologies are beginning to converge, even though the trend has not quite changed. New vendor technologies, a plethora of industry groups, and evolving standards are coming together to enable manufacturers to operate in a more flexible environment that is easier to administer and less expensive than traditional automation platforms.

Though scenarios for open automation have been evolving for years, work started at ExxonMobil to develop a next-generation multi-vendor automation architecture that would release industrial companies from the interoperability constraints of closed technologies started to take shape.

Exxon found the burden of this upgrade cycle to be more and more complex. In 2016, early work was made public and served as the foundation for standards effort conducted by The Open Group Global's Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF). The OPAF forum's director, Aneil Ali, states that end customers desire greater autonomy, including the ability to select from among the finest offers and switch from supplier A to supplier B if the latter offers a better option.

O-PAS on the rise

"Situated as a "standard of standards," O-PAS is being developed to incorporate outdated assets as well, which implies that any current hardware or software standards that are pertinent to the organization's objective are being incorporated into its operations," continues Ali. O-PAS has been developed to date with the assistance of over 125 standards organizations and initiatives. These include the use of PLCopen, IEC 61131-3, DMTF Redfish API for out-of-band systems management, OPC UA for use as a standard connectivity component, and PLCopen for programming standards.

Aneil Ali thinks that when testing and certification systems are built and operationalized over the next year, the existing lack of O-PAS-certified automation or control solutions will change. Additionally, he anticipates that the current partners in standards organizations will hasten the process of certifying products that enable O-PAS. "For the standards that are referenced in the O-PAS standard, we are utilizing the certification laboratories that are currently in place," says Ali.

Don Bartusiak, a former chief process control engineer at ExxonMobil who established open automation solutions and standards work, is still a proponent of multi-vendor automation designs and thinks the industry is almost ready for a shift. With his work at Collaborative Systems Integration, which provides consulting services for the design and integration of O-PAS systems, and through the Coalition for Open Process Automation (COPA), a partnership program established by CSI and CPLANE.AI to bring together IT and OT technology providers in the creation of O-PAS-based business control systems, Bartusiak is contributing to the development of the O-PAS standard.


The COPA system, as an open architecture solution

A commercial product called COPA QuickStart system comes with a training curriculum designed to assist manufacturers in understanding and implementing open architecture solutions into their operations. Clients select from a range of simulated process control scenarios, including fed-batch fermentation and fired heating. As a result, the system assists them in configuring control blocks, HMI panels, database labels, and other testing and optimization features. For that service, CSI serves as a systems integrator, while COPA's partners include businesses like Phoenix Contact, R. Stahl, SuperMicro, and Codesys. According to Bartusiak, "The objective is to encourage experimentation, not to function as a commercialized offering for production."

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