Innovative internal systems at Exxon inspire executives to create a forum for the oil and gas industry.
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The latest installment of the Intel Customer Spotlight series highlights the work done by ExxonMobil teams to modernize the technology they use and to take note of the establishment of the Open Process Automation Forum, a consortium established to provide long-term address challenges with industrial control systems.
During the discussion, ExxonMobil executives explained how their work in innovating their internal systems with Intel inspired them to create the Open Process Automation Forum to help other refineries and petrochemical plants automate operational processes to ensure safe, stable and maintain efficient activities.
For decades, ExxonMobil and energy suppliers have mainly been working on closed closed systems and are locked into solutions from one supplier, limiting their flexibility and the ability to integrate new innovations from different suppliers.
Organized by the influential CIO and technology consultant Tim Crawford, the discussion included comments from ExxonMobil’s project sponsor, Kenny Warren, plus, Nick Clausi, senior vice president of research and engineering, Don Bartusiak, chief engineer of process control, and Brad Houk, project manager of open process automation.
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Updating old systems
Clausi explained that ExxonMobil teams were commissioned to come up with solutions to the company’s “dual energy challenge”, which he said was related to supplying both energy and chemicals to a growing population, while simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions. emissions were reduced.
ExxonMobil is a direct descendant of Standard Oil, which was founded in 1870, and the company has had to survive more than 100 years in technological progress.
“Like many in our industry, ExxonMobil has a large number of proprietary operating systems manufactured globally in our factories, refineries and chemical plants. These have served us well with high availability and safe operations at all our plants,” said Warren.
“But our installation base is decades old and the challenges we face are the high cost of replacement and the limited ability to access current technology, especially in a more dynamic future with more data analysis, sensor capabilities, wireless and growth in computing power. As we replace our existing systems, we need a more flexible, open system that positions us for the future with an architecture that enables innovation and value creation. ”
Bartusiak elaborated on the industrial control systems of ExxonMobil, which he said were rigid and protected by the seller. Although this made more control possible, he said, it was a huge barrier to innovation and one of the fundamental business problems that the company needed to address.
He explained all the technology that the company is now applying to streamline its industrial control systems, including greater use of wireless technology, 5G, IoT, cloud systems and artificial intelligence.
“We are aggressively striving for wireless technology in production, both for wireless connections to sensors or end controls, things like valves that change the speed of fluid flows. This is also to enable a digital, mobile staff,” Bartusiak said.
ExxonMobil, he said, was eager to use this technology, but had to ensure that cyber security issues were first addressed because of the sensitive nature of their industry.
“In a context of industrial control, cyber security is a major concern for us. We are talking about life risk, risk for our neighbors who live near our production facilities. We take that responsibility very seriously. As we pursue this new technology, it becomes always done with the limitations and realities that we have to do it in a safe way, “he said.
His team has also worked for years on “digital twin” systems, creating a whole range of advanced math-based model-based technologies that have modeled the dynamic behavior of business processes. Bartusiak explained that his team now uses these models to control and optimize the company’s facilities.
Houk elaborated on the structured phase-gate process that ExxonMobil uses to develop technology, and explained that the process was designed to confirm important assumptions and reduce risk during each development phase.
“We applied the ExxonMobil standard process as we work to convert open process automation from a vision to a reality, so we specifically begin development with a proof of concept. We are really looking at some important technical feasibility issues,” Houk said.
“As soon as we can demonstrate that we have confidence, we can move on to a prototype system, increase our confidence and the technical feasibility of the system and demonstrate some important concepts. We build on our prototype and build a test bed. The test bed will be the basis to conduct a field trial around the development process. We have important requirements at each port and we have tried to eliminate risks that show that we are on our way to success. ”
Working with Intel
The collaboration between Intel and ExxonMobil began in 2014, when the energy company decided to bundle its work into a set of papers that defined the functional characteristics of what we wanted in the system.
They began to share the studies throughout the energy and chemical industry, leading to an overwhelming response from Intel. Within a few months, the technology company came to ExxonMobil with detailed prototypes of part of the reference architecture that Bartusiak and his team called the “distributed control node.”
That prototype led to a fruitful collaboration that served as a starting point for the Open Process Automation Forum.
“The contributions we see from Intel take two forms. They showed us the possibilities to bring technologies into our space that we really didn’t know and one general category is network functionality, virtualization technology. Virtualization software-defined networks, which is technology where Intel is strong in, who showed us what is possible in ways we really hadn’t considered, “Bartusiak said.
“The other area shows us how we influence business transformation. It’s more than technology, you have to build that ecosystem to influence this transformation and support it in the long term. Intel’s experience of influencing these types of transformations is a another area that I would like to emphasize that we are really benefiting from. ”
The Open Process Automation Forum
The changes ExxonMobil wanted to make were significant and too extensive to be made without outside help. Bartusiak said that officials were beginning to get some signals of changes that were taking place in the defense aviation industry, which was also in the process of transitioning a long series of closed proprietary systems.
Companies in the defense-avionic industry wanted to reduce costs by reusing unchanged radar systems by switching to modular, open, and interoperable systems defined by industry standards and procurement specifications that required industry-wide requirements. This is part of what led to ExxonMobil’s focus on collaboration standards.
“But the actual standard process itself requires cooperation and consensus between the entire market, end users, system suppliers, hardware suppliers, software suppliers and system integrators,” added Bartusiak.
“And so the result that we want to achieve is really a win-win solution for the willing participants in this transformation.”
Bartusiak and the other ExxonMobil executives explained that they alone could not create new standards, as it is an industry of $ 15 billion a year of which they represent only a percentage.
Any effort like this would require collaboration, so ExxonMobil executives started to contact other companies they knew had similar problems. These types of industrial control systems were not only useful for oil and gas companies, but also for companies involved in chemicals, mining, pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper.
Today, the Open Process Automation Forum has members in dozens of branches.
“The systems themselves only make infrastructure possible. The way we work with our colleagues in the standard activity is that we do not share what we do in terms of applications with our competition, but we all need this infrastructure. That is the nature of our collaboration, that is where the common ground is, where we can work together, “explained Houk.
Although some of the suppliers who were previously involved in this type of activity might feel threatened by it, Houk said the companies willing to participate see changes in their business.
“The standards largely concern the interfaces between the components that are part of an industrial control system. The internal content, the most important intellectual property, is still protected, can be licensed and can generate revenue from both hardware and software products and the required services to integrate a system that works for the end-user company, “Houk said.
“It is protectable, it can be licensed, you can generate income with it. That is the nature of the ecosystem that we are trying to build.”
Clausi told listeners that the Open Process Automation Forum was a breakthrough for multiple industries that use this type of equipment in their work, and that this was a “supportive investment that laid the foundation for future collaboration and innovation based on fast-moving digital capabilities ”
The open standards allowed innovators to break through the silos created by the closed nature of hardware and software, while according to Clausi real value was delivered to companies such as ExxonMobil.
“As a company, we see technical innovation as a core activity of our company and an important driver for competitiveness,” said Clausi.
“The Open Process Automation Forum is truly an investment that fundamentally lays the foundation for that ongoing innovation that helps us achieve our business goals, namely, delivering and meeting global energy demand and demand for chemicals.”
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