ExxonMobil makes strides to simplify, standardize its designs and solutions

ExxonMobil Development Corp.'s retired IC&E Manager and advisor Sandy Vasser outlines initiatives similar to the company's open, interoperable control effort

Because the push for interoperability doesn't happen in a vacuum, several initiatives similar to ExxonMobil's open, interoperable controls effort have been detailed in presentations at some recent user group meetings. Most were delivered by Sandy Vasser, IC&E manager and advisor (retired), ExxonMobil Development Corp., who reported that Exxon has long sought to eliminate unnecessary project steps and customization, and to simplify and standardize its designs and solutions.

For instance, Exxon developed its “It Just Happens” program about six years ago to streamline its process for major capital project specification, design, testing and implementation, and also launched its Main Automation Contractor (MAC) concept, which is defined as a highly qualified, well resourced control systems specialist contracted to engineer, supply, procure and manage instrumentation, control systems and associated interfaces for all project components and facilities.

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“We challenged every process and technology, and eliminated processes and hardware wherever we could. However, we didn't want to just identify problems and bolt on solutions afterwards because we also wanted to reduce customization,” says Vasser.

Vasser reported that ExxonMobil Development's new approach included:

  • Reduced customization and reliance on standard solutions by pushing customization to the software, using standard hardware, and eliminating the need for the infrastructure to support customized solutions;
  • Reduced complexity and simplified designs by reducing component counts and divergent systems, taking full advantage of the capability of installed systems, and reducing and simplifying interfaces;
  • Eliminated, simplified or automated processes;
  • Reduced the number of dependencies;
  • Reduced automatically generated documentation; and
  • Developed or enabled trust with suppliers and contractors.

Consequently, “It Just Happens” focused on several key areas, such as safety and cybersecurity, as well as areas with lots of customization, excessive time and/or resources used, lots of rework, dependencies on other disciplines, and related actions performed multiple times for different reasons. Vasser adds that key automation and other technologies aiding these efforts included:

  • Smart, configurable I/O in standard cabinets and/or field junction boxes;
  • Virtualized computing, both runtime and engineering;
  • Auto-detect, -interrogate, -configure, -enable, -document (DICED) I/O via HART and non-HART communication protocols;
  • Safety instrumented systems (SIS) logic solver directly programmed using translated cause and effects;
  • Seamless integration between automation and electrical systems;
  • Simplified package interface solution;
  • Wireless field instruments; and
  • Increased use of DC power, such as 125 VDC.

“On the physical side, we now have standard, non-customized components ordered by part number; detailed specifications aren't required; reduction in the number of cabinets by 66% and reduction in terminations by 70%; no hardware factory acceptance test (FAT) required for standard equipment; reliance on supplier QA/QC; reduced footprint of local equipment rooms by up to 40%; many copper cables replaced with fiber-optic cables and some copper completely eliminated by using wireless; and reduced topsides and module weights.” explains Vasser. “Meanwhile, our beneficial activities include simplified designs with less customization; schedule ties and engineering dependencies broken between hardware delivery and the plant design; design churn and recycle eliminated; less opportunities for errors in construction, less inspection required and less troubleshooting, as well as less vendor data that must be reviewed and approved. As a result, we've reduced automation engineering by 30-40%, construction by 20-30%, and commissioning by 30-40%. Also, our automation schedules have been compressed by as much as 25%; automation is off the critical path; we've reduced automation and electrical hardware costs by 30-40%; and we reduced drawings, including many that had been automatically generated.”

In the future, Vasser concluded that new challenges for the automation industry will consist of controls that can “age in place” with building blocks that are easier to upgrade and repair, and have cybersecurity built into their designs, as well as proper alarm configurations from the outset. He also called for simpler HMI graphics, and self-calibrating field instruments. “We should be able to replace components easily and on a timely basis when they age, which is why we've also undertaken our Open Architecture Initiative,” adds Vasser. “The oil and gas industries are all struggling presently, but the real leaders will be those who use this lull in activity to develop transformational solutions to do more with less when conditions improve.” 

For the full story, read "Breaking the interoperability barrier."

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