Innovation Required: ExxonMobil Drives Revolutionary Change in ICS Industry

ExxonMobil’s Research and Engineering Company (EMRE) is demonstrating timely leadership through its initiative to re-architect the process automation platform. On January 14, 2016, EMRE announced the award of a research-phase contract to Lockheed Martin (LM) to champion the design of an open and secure next-gen architecture emulating the open avionics environment embraced by defense and aerospace industries.

End users in the industry will welcome this initiative, as we’ve heard them cite countless reasons to reform automation systems, including: interoperability challenges, cost of integration and maintenance, obsolescence, and high cost of migration. The emergence of the Industrial Internet of Things, the availability of astonishing computing power, and the requirement for an intrinsically secure platform, have all converged to compel an urgent opportunity for disruptive change in the Industrial Control System (ICS) market. Despite the commoditization and standardization of IT hardware over the past 30 years, OT systems remain largely proprietary and expensive. Factors that historically justified the status quo – safety, cost, ICS evolution process – have been eclipsed by technologically advanced solutions to those very challenges. Similarly, advances in mission-critical software for cybersecurity, data management, and predictive analytics, require openness and interoperability to be fully and cost-effectively utilized.

LM, known for its strong systems engineering capabilities, particularly in requirements development, seems a good partnering choice to drive EMRE’s vision for next-gen automation systems. Ironically, the LM-led development of the F-35 Lightning II (winning design of the Joint Strike Fighter program) has been plagued by cost overruns and delays attributed in large part to proprietary hardware and software problems.

In an article posted on the U.S. Army website, author Bill Crawford quotes AMRDEC’s Alex Boydston while discussing common architecture efforts. Boydston states that, “Seventy percent of new aircraft development cost is now in software.” The Pentagon has called on LM and the F-35 program office to embrace interoperability and to allow future upgrades to the F-35’s avionics software to be open to other vendors. LM is a sponsor of the future airborne capability environment (FACE) consortium, the Open Group working with the F-35 program, and others to develop software standards, business strategies and certification processes to define and promote an open avionics environment. In fact, the FACE model is presented by EMRE and LM as the success example on which they intend to build their ICS model.

Don Bartusiak, Chief Engineer at EMRE, explained at the Industry Day hosted by LM last week, that ExxonMobil will replace a significant percentage of its control systems over the next decade. Dr. Bartusiak will have more to say next week in Orlando at the ARC Industry Forum. Although EMRE’s vision is for an industry-wide solution, it is clear that ExxonMobil intends to shepherd the transition from a proprietary stovepipe model to a full open ICS architecture. If they are successful, opportunities will abound for agile and innovative companies like PAS. And if LM also achieves an open interface to the F-35’s avionics, then refineries and strike fighters will indeed share some significant innovation success.

Do you think this is an opportunity for fast-moving innovators?

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