How Companies Can Use Open Standards to Drive Industrial Control Transformation

As companies look to adopt an Industry 4.0 approach to their industrial control systems and operations, they are increasingly looking to open, interoperable and portable technologies to help upgrade or replace their legacy systems. Pressures from internal stakeholders to transform and drive value from investments, as well as how to future-proof an industrial transformation, are driving operations managers to look at innovative systems based on standards.

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“There’s a large need for multi-vendor interoperability and portability in today’s distributed control system infrastructure, and they really want to future-proof their lifecycles,” says Kirk Smith, Director & PE of Industrial Systems & Solutions Architecture at Intel. “They want to be able to take the applications they’ve spent lots of money on a given implementation and move it to the next version of their factory without having to rework the entire application, which would have significant costs.”

One of the biggest ways companies can begin moving to transform their industrial control systems to a software-defined model is to collaborate and get IT officials and OT officials in the same room. Educating IT officials about operations and OT officials about technology was a big step.

Smith was a panelist in a recent A3 webinar, “Foundational Standards and Open Source to Realize the Promise of Industry 4.0”, which discussed the different industrial standards bodies and open-source projects that focus on industrial process automation, data, networking and certification programs. The webinar was part of the Intel-sponsored Intelligent Edge for Industrial Applications series. Smith was joined on the panel by Don Bartusiak, president of Collaborative Systems Integration and the co-chair of the Open Process Automation Forum of The Open Group (OPAF), an organization driving the creation of open standards for industrial control systems.

Bartusiak says operations professionals are facing many of the same pain points that were seen in other industry sectors, such as telecommunications or information technology. “Customers could look at adjacent spaces like telecommunications and computing and see how software was being developed in other industries,” says Bartusiak. “There was a recognition – the light bulb goes off in their head and they say, ‘Hey, we can do better’, which is now driving the open standards initiative.”

In the industrial control systems (ICS) space, similar pain points with telecom and computing include the lack of interoperability between systems; no software reuse among systems; proprietary interfaces; the inability to add innovative third-party systems; complex data integration; and the lack of a security framework. As these other sectors looked to open standards to help address those pain points, we are now seeing companies explore this in the ICS sector.

The panelists noted that there are several different standards within the industrial controls area, depending on the process and configuration that companies are needing to address. “The big thing for me is how the Open Process Automation Forum is pulling together at an interface level the manageability, security, connectivity capability, and the realization that system certification is what’s required to drive interoperability and portability long term,” says Smith. “This also includes the need to address physical platform interfaces to make sure we’re covering technical architecture related to those areas.”

Fortunately, the standards that are being developed are not being done simply from scratch. OPAF is utilizing several existing standards in other spaces and adopting them to the industrial controls space. For example, in the O-PAS Standard, the technical architecture references the IEC 62264 (ISA 95) standard, security references the IEC 62443 (ISA 99) standard, and system management is addressed through the DMTF (Redfish) standard. All of these existing standards include interoperability, availability, and manageability attributes.

“The phrase that gets thrown around a lot without being defined very well is futureproofing,” says Bartusiak. “People love to talk about future proofing, but what does that mean? One really tangible way of future proofing is to use an industry standard method to do something rather than a vendor-specific, proprietary mechanism. That’s one of the big driving forces to go towards standards-based architecture.”

The two panelists also gave examples of companies that are already creating test beds, prototypes and field trials of the open standards initiative, including companies like ExxonMobil, BASF, Georgia Pacific, Dow Chemical, Equinor, Shell and Petronas. In the ExxonMobil O-PAS field trial, the company is replacing an existing distributed control system (DCS) and several obsolete PLCs at a manufacturing facility in Louisiana with a new O-PAS-based system. The trial is looking at providing a single operator and console operation that includes about 2,000 I/O counts and more than 300 control loops. The test is using commercially available products that use OPC-UA, IEC 61499 control runtime and other standards.

Both panelists agreed that the best way to address skeptics on the transformation of industrial control systems is to provide successful examples in the space. “We address the skeptics’ concerns by showing what’s possible and doing it,” says Bartusiak. We can show what's possible by actually demonstrating the stuff that is working in practice.”

The final topic in the Intelligent Edge webinar series, “Getting to the Greater Good – Digital Transformation Drives Profitability and Sustainability,” is scheduled for Tuesday, December 13, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. ET. You can register for free here.