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A revolution is stirring in the process control world

March 28, 2016
The Open Group’s Future Airborne Capability Environment Consortium’s marching orders sound like an ideal arsenal for a process control revolution.
About the author
Paul Studebaker is chief editor of Control. He earned a master's degree in metallurgical engineering and gathered 12 years experience in manufacturing before becoming an award-winning writer and editor for publications including Control and Plant Services.

As the U.S. presidential campaign season progresses through the primaries, it seems that more than a few people are ready for serious change in how government is done. The boundless barrage of rhetoric and vitriol has grabbed much of our attention, but meanwhile, something almost as remarkable and perhaps even more important is happening in the world of process control.

The announcement by ExxonMobil that it has contracted with Lockheed Martin to help it specify its next generation distributed control system is reported here, with details and the general specifications. Also, here John Rezebek explains some of the frustrations and problems with current “open” systems that he sees as reasons why ExxonMobil has gone outside the usual circle of DCS vendors to award this contract.

In the end, ExxonMobil envisions prototyping in 2016 and deploying in 2019 a standards-based, open, secure and interoperable control system that:

  • Promotes innovation and value creation;
  • Easily integrates best-in-class components;
  • Accesses leading capability and performance;
  • Preserves the asset’s application software;
  • Significantly lowers the cost of future replacement; and,
  • Employs an adaptive intrinsic security mode.

Lockheed Martin is expected to leverage its participation in the Open Group’s Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Consortium—a group of avionics manufacturers formed in 2010 to create an open avionics standard for making military computing operations more robust, interoperable, portable and secure.

Along with suppliers, the FACE Consortium now includes avionics customers, academia and users. It works with the government on software standards and business strategy to ease military acquisition of affordable software systems by providing a vendor-neutral forum for industry and government to work together to develop and consolidate open standards, best practices, guidance documents and business strategy.

The consortium’s marching orders sound like an ideal arsenal for a process control revolution:

  • Standardize approaches for using open standards within avionics systems;
  • Lower implementation costs;
  • Make standards that support a robust architecture and quality software development;
  • Use standard interfaces that will lead to reuse of capabilities;
  • Provide portability of applications across multiple FACE systems and vendors;
  • Procure FACE-conformant products;
  • Allow more capabilities to reach warfighters faster; and,
  • Foster innovation and competition within the avionics industry.

Think what you will about the military-industrial complex (MIC), but there’s no doubt its funding, human resources and technical firepower dwarf those available to the usual developers of process control systems. It’s like the ongoing war between industrial and commercial technology, except this time, ExxonMobil has decided to work with people who already understand what “real-time,” “mission-critical” and “secure” mean in an environment where things go boom.

To help foster a DCS revolution, ExxonMobil invites other companies to join in a coalition of the willing to strengthen its case and build market share for the DCS of the future. As we emerge from the recession into a new world of open architectures, Internet of Things, wireless and cloud services, and intensifying concerns about security, you may be among those feeling like it’s time to kick some government butt. Along the way, consider joining the ExxonMobil revolution, and relying on it.

Homepage image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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