Jan 07, 2020 Medical

Open Process Automation PoC in the Chemical Industry

By Amar Parmar

As we enter 2020, it's exciting to think about what technology trends will be gaining traction across the process industries. 2019 was a great year for technology innovation across the industry, so I expect (and hope) we'll be seeing things pick up where they left off on the technology front. I had the privilege of attending the NAMUR annual general meeting late last year in Bad Neuenahr, Germany (NAMUR is a leading international association of automation technology users in process industries). I left this event feeling very enthusiastic about what's to come in the new decade.

In partnership with ABB, BASF, Codewrights, ExxonMobil, Phoenix Contact, Samson and University of Dresden, together we showcased an Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) influenced proof of concept, that integrated Module Type Package (MTP) and NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) for interoperability and additional synergies. It included Wind River’s virtualization technology, ABB’s process control applications, edge hardware and software from Phoenix Contact, and technology custodianship from the University of Dresden. BASF contributed it’s clear Water’ demo plant with real components in an uncritical process, shared specific requirements of the chemical industry (e.g. batch processing) and supported the integration of three standards initiatives (OPAF, MTP, NOA).

This PoC demonstrated the replacement of specialized hardware, which typically performs a specific function, with COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) hardware, which performs multiple functions through virtualization. To illustrate the significance of the demo, I’ll use the following example: A chemical processing plant usually runs continuously (we can think of it as running 24/7). It is undesirable to start / stop it unless it is absolutely necessary. A shutdown should be either safety-related or change-related. However, due to the reality of a physical compute box for each function, the shutdown could be for something trivial like hard drive failure on one of the systems. Consolidating these hardware boxes on COTS hardware, while providing high availability and high security with an open standards-based model, is very desirable in this industry and others. It addresses the need for virtualization and bringing cloud like capabilities to the edge.

To make a comparison, NAMUR Open Architecture has many similarities to the OPAF (Open Process Automation Forum) architecture, which is trying to:

  1. Ensure safety, reliability and security
  2. Reduce system life-cycle costs
  3. Ease upgrades and replacement path
  4. Maintain end-user software portability
  5. Easy integration of certified, best-in-class, fit-for-purpose products
  6. Create open standards based systems, providing multiple vendor interoperability and future-proofing.

OPAF is pursuing these goals through an architecture which focuses on security, standards and interoperability of components. NAMUR members companies, faced similar challenges to those of OPAF member companies. With NOA (NAMUR Open Architecture), NAMUR member companies embarked on a path to develop an architecture to address these challenges which would:

  1. Integrate requirements and best practices, both from IT and OT
  2. Introduce open systems and standards
  3. Integrate and provide interoperability to both new and existing systems
  4. Provide future-proofing for current systems
  5. Achieve higher levels of security
  6. Be agile to support adoption of fast moving IT technologies
  7. Improve access to process data

Both efforts will significantly benefit the industry, resulting in improved security, interoperability and future-proofing of existing systems. This is definitely an exciting time for the industry as it changes how software is used, deployed and secured.

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