Plug-and-play products, testbeds built on O-PAS foundation

March 20, 2024
Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) stays busy, keeps up pressure for interoperability

What’s the source of all of the upcoming Open Process Automation Standard (O-PAS) products? Well, they and the 10 end-user testbeds presently underway are based on the interoperability principles and requirements that the Open Process Automation Forum and its partners and other supporters have been developing for close to 10 years.  

Jacco Opmeer, co-chair of OPAF and DCS subject matter expert at Shell, reports the original design of O-PAS established in 2016 remains solidly applicable, even as newer technologies were added in recent years. Likewise, the OPAF organization continues to grow, and now has more than 100 members, including 10 of the largest owner-operating companies on Forbes Top 100 list.

“The diagram for our open, standards-based, interoperable, secure, process control architecture still stands, and our organization is healthy, even as we liaison with more end users and standards organizations,” said Opmeer. “We’re also continuing to follow the parallel effort on practical execution by ExxonMobil and its partners in their OPA testbed and field trial.”

Opmeer reports that 2023 was a busy year for O-PAS and OPAF. Their major milestones included:

  • Published O-PAS, Version 2.1, for control functionality in February 2023, which enables one application to be used on another platform, and extracts program data and other elements users may want to put in another carrier.
  • Progressed on developing an AutomationML model to provide portability. (AutomationML is a neutral, XML-based, object-oriented data modeling for storing and exchanging plant engineering information.)
  • Harmonizing with the Module Type Package (MTP) framework from the NAMUR organization, which seeks to standardize equipment data models and description language to streamline interoperability, and recently collaborated with OPAF on a tradeshow demonstration about how they can work together.
  • Harmonizing with the OPC UA Field eXchange (FX) specification that details extensions to the OPC UA protocol for uniform communications between controllers on a common network.
  • Released a snapshot preview of O-PAS, Part 9, on system orchestration, so potential users and the larger community can download it and provide feedback.
  • Progressed on Version 2 of the O-PAS Adoption Guide’s Q&A section for system integrators and service providers.
  • Continued OPAF’s global marketing and outreach activities.
  • Launched OPAF’s End User Subcommittee.

“With new updates coming almost every day, our theme for 2024 is ‘Productize, Certify and Deploy,’” added Opmeer. “We don’t have O-PAS-certified products yet, but many prototypes are being tested in end-user installations at BASF, Cargill, Dow Chemical, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Georgia-Pacific, Petronas, Reliance, Saudi Aramco and Shell.” 

Configuration and application portability

O-PAS, V2.1, was intended to provide enough content for interested suppliers to build complin systems. It focuses on configuration portability, and includes:

  • Process control operational data defined in OPC UA’s information model.
  • Execution engines and reference function blocks for IEC 61131 standard for programmable controllers and IEC 61499 standard about function blocks for industrial process. measurement and control systems.
  • Alarm messages based on OPC-UA alarms and conditions.
  • OPC UA client/server network communication protocol.
  • System management based on DMTF’s Redfish standard protocol that provides a RESTful interface for managing servers.
  • Security architecture based on IEC 62443 cybersecurity standard

Scheduled to launch later in 2024 or shortly after, O-PAS, Version 3.0, focuses on the physical platform, application portability, system orchestration, and IEC 61131 and IEC 61499. More specifically, its features include:

  • Exchange of end-user control strategies such as import/export.
  • Standardized distributed control node (DCN) with I/O on a PICMG backplane.
  • Standardized I/O services to allow I/O from multiple vendors on a DCN.
  • Support for alarms and events hierarchies and groups.
  • Security via role-based access and control.
  • Portability of application control logic.
  • Standardized orchestration.

“We expect several products to be certified in the first half of 2024. We’re also going to announce recognized verification labs and recognized test tools for O-PAS profiles,” concluded Opmeer. “The certification launch coming soon will cover the O-PAS connectivity framework, network requirements, system management, security and OPC UA client server as global discovery server.”

Shell’s testbed part of digitalization strategy

Robert Tulalian, information technology (IT) manager at Shell, added that its two-year-old, O-PAS testbed with commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) products is part of its overall effort to operationalize and embed IT and operations technology (OT) convergence in three primary areas, namely asset operations, industrial solutions and capital projects. System integrators for this testbed are Wood and Yokogawa, which helped implement its advanced computing platform (ACP), O-PAS connectivity framework (OCF), and I/O and other DCNs, and test its adoption of IEC 61499. 

The testbed’s ACP relies on Dell and VMware to run: IEC 61499 engineering from Schneider Electric, HMI and alarms from Yokogawa, global discovery server via OPC UA, and system management from Zabbix and Red Hat. Its utilities, such as backup and recovery, remote access, domain controller, antivirus, repositories and other IT services, are provided by Cohesity, Microsoft, McAfee, GitLab and Harbor. 

“The DCNs and IEC 61499 enable real-time control, and decouple our I/O from compute functions, which lets us scale O-PAS to smaller applications with less than 50 I/O,” said Tulalian. “Despite these gains, we’ve also experienced some challenges, such as HMIs that don’t automatically reconnect, OPC UA sometimes preventing alarm acknowledgements, unexpected global deliver server shutdowns, and some function block difficulties. Still, software on the testbed is stable overall, even though it will require some updates, which can be expected in a beta-test environment. In addition to the tests on our testbed, we’ll need to explore further third-party integration for HMIs, historians, alarms and condition management in our brownfield trials this year, while we’re considering NAMUR Open Archiecture (NOA) networking for our greenfield applications. We’re also planning to use high-fidelity digital twins on the testbed for process modeling, asset performance, and cockpit/dashboard displays.”

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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