The question is not what the process industries are trying to accomplish by means of industrial information technology. But rather, Patricia T. Sperrell of Exxon Mobil says, “As you drive performance by opening up data and collaboration, how do you ensure cyber-security?”

Sprewell, who is department manager, automation, optimization and global support, Exxon Mobil Research and Engineering, was speaking at the 17th annual ARC Advisory Group’s World Industry Forum, held this week in Orlando. The immediacy of the issue Sperrell cited was underlined given that several people attending the conference were said to have been called away early in anticipation of an impending release from the White House of an executive order bearing on infrastructure cyber-security.

At the ARC event, as if striving to answer Sperrell’s urgent question, the continuing evolution and application of one of today’s most significant tools for industrial automation, Open Platform Communications (OPC), was the subject of several announcements.

The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), representing the manufacturers and suppliers of communications networks, announced publication of key updates to the TR-50 Machine-to-Machine protocol standard series. The purpose of the standard is “to inspire makers to implement connectivity to the things they manufacture.”

In promulgating the standard, TIA joined forces with the OPC Foundation. The two groups have consolidated development efforts in automation, and cloud and network standards in order to bridge the divide between two previously distinct inquiries, says a TIA press release.

OPC was first developed in 1996 by an industrial automation industry task force. The standard specifies the communication of real-time plant data between control devices from different manufacturers. OPC has grown beyond its original implementation to include other data transportation technologies including XML and Microsoft’s .NET Framework. OPC UA, for universal architecture, is a new set of specification not based on Microsoft COM.

TIA has also developed a bulletin on security aspects of smart device communications, TSB 4940.

Also at the ARC event, Invensys Operations Management discussed its enhancement of its Triconex critical control and safety offerings for industrial operations. Triconex Safety View is said to be the world’s first software for effective alarm and bypass management certified by TÜV Rheinland to IEC61508 Systematic Capability 3 for use in applications up to Safety Integrity Level 3. Additionally, Triconex Trident and Triconex General Purpose safety instrumented systems now support OPC UA.

“Changing market dynamics and emerging technologies require a fundamental rethinking of how companies manage their operations,” said Gary Freburger, president of the company’s Systems business. Safety View now improves situational awareness and broadens visibility into the risks that come with system startups, shutdowns and other critical process transitions that must be managed by plant personnel.

For its part, Schneider Electric discussed another means to industrial integration, its PlantStruxure collaborative architecture, now combined with StruxureWare Process Expert, a single software environment that integrates control applications, supervision and field devices to configure an entire control system. The company says the result, PlantStruxure Process Expert System (PES) integrates the field, process and enterprise levels of a business, to meet automation needs while optimizing operations and energy management.

Andy Chatha, ARC president, in his keynote address said it’s a sure bet that “devices, machinery and equipment will become more intelligent,” and listed the following trends as important:

·       Mobile devices the preferred user interface

·       Remote asset and operations modeling

·       3D simulation and modeling will become the norm

·       Robust cyber-security monitoring a must

·       Greater use of asset and product lifecycle solutions

·       Analytics for plant performance

Much more was said on these subjects, and in fact are discussions continue as this blog goes to post. But one way to sum up might be the following, from Craig Resnick, an ARC vice-president: “In the industrial world, the emerging ‘internet of things’ will open important new opportunities for companies to improve overall equipment effectiveness and realize other performance improvements. This will enable through seamless data and information exchanges among machines, automation, information systems and software applications such as advanced analytics, visualization, equipment monitoring and remote operations.”