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ARC Advisory Group's Industry Forum Online enlightens thousands

March 10, 2021
Industrial forum draws 2,375 attendees to cybersecurity, open process and other sessions

Just like all gatherings in the past year, ARC Advisory Group's Industry Forum Online was staged digitally, virtually and remotely. However, despite the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 25th annual conference on Feb. 8-11 still attracted 2,375 visitors, including about 1,000 end users.

The online forum delivered its usual keynote addresses, panel discussions, press conferences and other sessions, which showed attendees how to cope with the biggest challenges facing the process industries, such as cybersecurity, digital transformation and many others. Similar to many virtual events no longer constrained by physical locations, logistics and schedules, ARC also extended its presentations over several additional days until Feb. 17, which included its Supply Chain and SmartCities programs. They're all available online at https://arc-industry-forum.arcweb.com and at https://www.arcweb.com/events/arc-industry-forum-orlando.

Taste of cybersecurity

For instance, multiple sessions confirmed that centralized and consistent security policies, end-to-end and zero-trust access, training and retraining staff, and converging information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) programs are key to improving cybersecurity, according to Sid Snitkin, VP of cybersecurity services at ARC, who organizes the presentations and panel discussions each year.

"Cybersecurity is more than technology because people can undermine tools and create security gaps. Most companies implement security solutions, but often don't invest in people and maintaining those solutions," says Snitkin. "A few companies invest in active defenses, but the managers of others discount the possibility of sophisticated attacks and think they can't afford solutions, even though breaches are far more costly."

Ian Henderson, VP of automation system security at BP, adds: "We live more in the world of IT security now, so we work closely with our IT colleagues. What works for us is combining our efforts, talking to each other, and finding out if security methods that work in one area might be used in another. Cross-fertilization and diversity of thought can be a big help because cybersecurity isn't easy, so why shouldn't we use what IT already knows?"

Post-pandemic digitalization

In his 2021 event introduction, ARC president and CEO Andy Chatha detailed some the lessons that he and his staff collectively crystallized during the previous year:

  • Disruption can happen faster than we can imagine;
  • Necessity is still the mother of invention, and everyone had to learn new tricks at home and at work;
  • No one is immune, but impacts can be uneven, from family to family, company to company, and country to country;
  • Priorities can change quickly;
  • Resets are possible and can be galvanizing;
  • We the people can rebound quickly; and
  • We need highly engaged employees for faster innovation and greater customer satisfaction.

In the first conference keynote, Nick Clausi, VP of engineering at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, reported that COVID-19 accelerated its deployment of digital technologies and revealed their previously unrecognized value, such as using remote connectivity for factory acceptance testing (FAT) and using robotics for inspections. Clausi added that remote connectivity and ExxonMobil's advanced dynamic matrix controls allowed it to rapidly and remotely update controls and physical modifications on the isopropyl alcohol (IPA) unit at its plant in Baton Rouge, La., which let it quickly increase IPA production because it's a key ingredient in sanitizers and disinfectants that have been experiencing unprecedented demand.

“There’s a tendency to overestimate the risk, and underestimate the value of digital technologies," adds Clausi. "That’s a really important lesson for us to keep in mind as we pursue some of those more challenging digital technologies and applications.”

Press conferences herald innovations

ARC Industry Forum 2021 also delivered its usual full docket of press conferences. The major announcements included:

Schneider Electric debuted its EcoStruxure Automation Expert (EAE) software, Version 21.0, as the latest in an ongoing series of updates of what it reports is the software-centric system, and added it's implementing Agile software development, so every three to six months, it can release new EAE enhancements based on direct customer feedback. Schneider Electric also announced that it's partnered with energy consultant and system integrator Wood to make open and interoperable automation a reality for clients by giving Wood’s automation and control group access to Schneider Electric’s IEC61499-based software, helping them deliver open, standards-based automation solutions.

To help users beset by pandemic-related stresses and the usual cost pressures, GE Digital introduced its GE Remote Operations software for users in the oil and gas and chemicals industries. The solution includes a mobile HMI for internal and external users, remote technician functions, and command center capabilities.

Bayshore Networks reported that it's acquiring GE Digital's Op Shield software for edge security, and combining Bayshore’s in-depth policy learning, enforcement and deep content inspection engines with Op Shield's advanced management console with advanced protocol technology. Bayshore adds that integrated solutions should be available in late 3Q21 under the Op Shield NextGeneration brand name.

Siemens introduced its Simatic PCS neo software and web-based control system that provides one workbench for all tasks, and consistent, object-oriented data management; Scalance MUM856-1 industrial 5G router to connects local industrial applications to the public 5G network; and Sinema Remote Connect management platform that provides secure access to remote plants and machines.

PAS Global, part of Hexagon, launched Sensor Data Integrity, a new Automation Integrity software module, which lets users ensure configuration data integrity for smart and traditional sensors with signal tracing and validation. This addition to Automation Integrity is designed to reduce process safety and cyber risk in support of digital transformation and Industry 4.0 initiatives.

Yokogawa Electric Corp. released Collaborative Information Server (CI Server) as part of its OpreX Control and Safety System family. The software will integrate handling of all kinds of data from plant facilities and systems to optimized management of production activities across an entire enterprise; provide the environment needed to remotely monitor and control operations from any location; and reduce the need for travel and the risk of potential infections.

OPC Foundation announced that its Field Level Communications (FLC) initiative is developing field-related extensions to its OPC UA protocol to drive interoperability from field to cloud and back and support IT/OT convergence. So far, more than 300 experts from more than 60 member companies have signed up for the technical working groups creating the technical concepts and specification contents. Work has also started on identifying and creating facets and profiles that define the mandatory feature sets for automation components, which is crucial for cross-vendor interoperability. In addition, OPC Foundation welcomed Amazon Web Serves (AWS) as its latest member.