May 2016


Automation Strategies: The “big picture” on ExxonMobil’s open system initiative

Several noteworthy presentations were given at ARC's 20th Annual ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida in February.

Miller, Paul, ARC Advisory Group

Several noteworthy presentations were given at ARC’s 20th Annual ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida in February. One presentation, in particular, stimulated considerable discussion among process control system end users and suppliers alike: Don Bartusiak’s keynote presentation on ExxonMobil’s vision for a totally new, open, standards-based process automation platform.

For those readers who do not know Dr. Bartusiak, he is the chief engineer for process control at ExxonMobil (Downstream) Research & Engineering.

“I would like to present the big picture here,” Dr. Bartusiak began. “The problem we are trying to solve is, ‘How can we take the cost out of our process control projects for both system replacements and greenfield projects?’”

What’s wrong with the status quo?

“So, what is wrong with the status quo?” he asked rhetorically. “In a nutshell, it is too expensive for us to upgrade our process control systems, and we are just not getting enough value from them. Most of the recent enhancements we have made were for Level 3 applications that reside above the control systems.” Dr. Bartusiak also noted that a significant percentage of ExxonMobil Refining and Chemical’s control systems will face obsolescence over the next decade.

Getting right to the point, he said, “So, why not simply replace these systems with a state-of-the-art distributed control system (DCS)?” He gave five reasons:

  • The high cost of “technology refresh” limits access to leading-edge performance
  • Integrating third-party components is too expensive
  • Limited liquidity exists in the application market, along with a lack of sophisticated development tools
  • Solutions come bundled vs. best-in-class
  • Rather than being built-in and intrinsic, the current security model is bolted on.

A new approach

To find solutions, Dr. Bartusiak explained, “We saw opportunities for improvement through open architectures and virtualization—not just for engineering, but also to provide new ways for process control. We saw a constructive revolution taking place in the defense avionics industry by transitioning from a proprietary ‘stovepipe’ model to an open and interoperable, standards-based system architecture. We saw the Internet of Things (IoT) and wireless capabilities changing management expectations, with questions such as, ‘Why do we even need control systems anymore?’ We are seeing new solutions for the security challenge from innovators.”

He presented his organization’s vision for standards-based, open, secure and interoperable control systems that:

  • Promote innovation and value creation
  • Effortlessly integrate best-in-class components
  • Afford access to leading-edge capability and performance
  • Preserve the asset owner’s application software
  • Significantly lower the cost of future replacement
  • Employ an adaptive intrinsic security model.

Dr. Bartusiak emphasized that this vision for open automation was applicable for both brownfield and greenfield facilities; would involve no compromises in safety, security or availability; and, most importantly, would help meet the goal of creating a commercially available system that would be applicable to all current DCS markets.

Why Lockheed Martin?

Next, Dr. Bartusiak addressed the obvious question of why ExxonMobil decided to work with Lockheed Martin to supplement its internal resources for this critically important initiative.

Lockheed Martin is a founding member of the Open Group Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Consortium, a joint government-industry consortium formed in 2010 as a government and industry partnership to define an open avionics environment for all military airborne platform types.

Dr. Bartusiak and the rest of the ExxonMobil team realized that a similar approach could be extremely beneficial for the process control industry. In November 2015, ExxonMobil awarded Lockheed Martin the contract to serve as the systems integrator for early-stage development.

Next steps

In January of this year, ExxonMobil and Lockheed Martin held an “industry day” event for suppliers to test the industry’s appetite for this type of solution. Despite a major snowstorm that buried the Washington D.C. area, the vast majority of interested parties still managed to attend.

The next step, Dr. Bartusiak said, is to solicit interest and support from other prospective users. “We plan to build a lab prototype in 2016. Beyond 2016, we would like to see a technically ready solution in 2018 and a fit-for-purpose system in 2019.”  HP

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