Test Labs Prove the Way Forward

Published 19/7/2019

OPAF Members Unite to Deliver OPA Test Bed

Miners, Manufacturers and Energy companies, although different in many ways, all use process control systems to manage and optimise their fixed plant processes.

Process Control Systems from vendors such as ABB, Siemens, GE, Honeywell, Schneider Electric, Rockwell and Yokogawa (to name a few) are widely implemented in operations across these industries to enable process automation and optimisation across the various equipment that make up their plants.

Whilst the advantages of automated process control vs manual plant operation are well established, the process control technology market has been outpaced in terms of technology advancement when compared to the IT market over that last few decades.

Where IT capabilities have advanced significantly, process control systems and as such, users of these systems, have not benefited from the same rapid advancement.

One of the contributors to this is the fact that the IT industry has become very open, thus enabling a period of quick progress attributed to fast paced R&D, subsequent rapid creation of new technologies and ultimately much improved outcomes for businesses and consumers alike.

Even where process control technology has improved, the closed and proprietary nature of the process control market makes it difficult and costly to update existing implementations.

To address these issues and in recognition of the significant value yet to be unlocked in the process control space, a number of oil and gas and manufacturing companies established the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) in 2016 through the creation of an open and interoperable process control market.

Testament to OPAFs approach and drive with such a challenging objective, OPAF has within 3 years already delivered initial versions of standards, run successful proof of concepts and secured over 80 actively participating member companies. These companies are a representation of the who’s who of process automation and include some of the largest process automation technology suppliers and users in the world.

Respected analysts are now predicting OPAF to deliver the disruption to the process automation space that has long been needed.

Most recently, ExxonMobil has announced a first of it's kind collaboration with six other end user companies to accelerate the development and implementation of OPA systems. With the collaboration including the likes of Aramco Services Company, BASF, ConocoPhillips Company, The Dow Chemical Company, Georgia-Pacific and Linde, the signs are there and the benefits and likelihood of success are looking favourable.

ExxonMobil has also announced that process automation company Yokogawa have been awarded the System Integrator contractor scope for the establishment of ExxonMobil's Open Process Automation Test Bed.

Based at ExxonMobil's Houston Campus in Spring, Texas, the test bed will facilitate the validation and testing of OPAF suitable components and architectures prior to industrial field trials.

Though the benefits of an open and interoperable process control paradigm are significant and far reaching in terms of production throughput and lower costs, the mining industry is yet to actively participate in OPAF nor consider the looming disruption in their technology strategies.

From an Australian perspective, Woodside Energy, Enterprise Transformation Partners (ETP) and the University of Western Australia have contributed to the OPAF work to date.

As subject matter experts in the field of interoperability in the Energy and Mining sectors, ETP has established a project with UWA that enables the Australian and Asian Mining and Energy sectors to get on the front foot with respect to taking advantage of the imminent opportunities becoming available as a result of OPAFs work.

The project, the UWA I4.0 Energy and Resources Digital Interoperability (ERDi) TestLab, is currently being built in Perth, Western Australia and is on track to be operational as planned in Q4 2019.

The ERDi TestLab is one of six I4.0 TestLabs being established in Australia under the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science's i4.0 initiatives plan.

The ERDi TestLab will provide a platform for Australian industry and technology providers to participate in, influence and be at the forefront of implementing and realising the benefits of the next generation of operations management and process automation technologies.

The TestLab will provide training and access to new OPA aligned technologies enabling mining and energy companies based in Australia to improve their digital strategies and take advantage of the emerging technologies and capabilities, in step with global leaders in innovation and adoption.

The Testlab also provides education and support to technology vendors at any scale for enhancing their products to support the OPA standards.

If you are interested in finding out how your company can get involved, please contact us at the following or register via the website.

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