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Manufacturers Push for Open, Interoperable Control Systems

Posted By Jeff Moad, June 07, 2016 at 12:37 AM, in Category:

Now is the time for manufacturers to band together to force providers of real time control systems to replace their closed, proprietary technologies with distributed control systems and programmable logic control systems that are open, interoperable, and secure, according to a representatives from several large companies who spoke today at the opening session of the 12th annual Manufacturing Leadership Summit.

Representatives from ExxonMobil, Merck, and Procter & Gamble told the ML Summit audience that their companies face business disruption, huge cost, and increasing cyber security threats, all because the core real time control system technologies on which their production operations rely have traditionally been proprietary and closed.

Open interfaces and standard communication protocols, they noted, long ago transformed IT infrastructure and enterprise business systems such as ERP, opening them to more rapid innovation and encouraging greater competition among technology providers, which lowered costs.

But the same pattern—and the same benefits—have not applied to the real-time distributed control systems (DCS) and programmable logic control (PLC) systems that manufacturers use to run their plant floors. There system architectures are typically proprietary and vendor-specific. That tends to limit innovation and it often forces manufacturers to live for decades with obsolete control technology until, at great expense, they are forced to upgrade.

Now some manufacturers are proposing to break that pattern by working together to bring open interfaces and protocols to the control systems environment. Don Bartusiak, chief engineer at ExxonMobil, said his company six months ago began putting together a business case, set of functional characteristic requirements, and a reference architecture for open control systems. It hopes to team with other manufacturers, test the open architecture, and have a first instantiation of the architecture in place by 2020.

“We can’t keep rolling along, kicking this can along the road,” Bartusiak told the ML Summit audience as part of a panel discussion. “We’re trying to draw a line in the sand.”

Already, said Bartusiak, ExxonMobil has recruited several manufacturers—including Lockheed Martin—to its cause and has met with control system vendors. The group issued a request for information for vendors in January.

Next, the ExxonMobil-led effort will recruit more manufacturers to support the cause. The company is planning an industry day for manufacturers on June 27 in Houston.

Other manufacturers on the panel said they would welcome more open, interoperable and modular control systems that could be updated more easily and cost-effectively as business requirements changed.  Pietro D’Arpa, director of corporate global manufacturing/global beauty at P&G said already his company is working with several groups to bring open standards to the control environment. Manufacturers must work together to accomplish this, he said.

At Merck, David Ege, executive director for vaccines & biologics manufacturing, said the inflexibility of closed, proprietary control systems—couple with a difficult regulatory environment, means his company delays upgrade until it has little choice to make them, at great expense.

But Ege, like other manufacturers at the ML Summit, said they will need to work hard to make a business case for forcing what would be a major change in the control system technology market.

Written by Jeff Moad

Jeff Moad is Research Director and Executive Editor with the Manufacturing Leadership Community. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Awards Program. Follow our LinkedIn Groups: Manufacturing Leadership Council and Manufacturing Leadership Summit

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