Wednesday, January 27, 2016

New Process Control Inflection Point

Much as the introduction of the DCS by Honeywell in 1976 changed the process control industry, a new movement initiated by ExxonMobil promises to change the industry in the next two years. Yesterday, January 26, 2016 Lockheed Martin engaged by ExxonMobil gathered together potential suppliers of process control systems to hear a series of presentations detailing the kind of system that ExxonMobil, and probably many other process industry manufacturers want to buy - and it does not look much like today's DCS products.

The situation encountered by ExxonMobil and many other companies in the Chemical, PetroChem, and Oil and Gas industries is partial obsolescence of their DCSs, many installed 30-40 years ago. While is has been difficult and expensive to keep these antique systems operating, rip and replace has not been an economical option. The problem is that the components of the DCS are so tightly intermeshed that partial update becomes impossible. In many cases, new custom made electronics is being installed where components can no longer be repaired, thus keeping alive a control system with 40 year old technology. ExxonMobil and others does not want to repeat this in the future, and is willing to set the pace to change the industry in such a way that it will not be repeated.

Needless to say, the DCS companies are not exactly in favor of this sea-change to process control system architecture. Hints of this change were presented at the February 2015 ARC Forum held in Orlando, but details were only released yesterday at the meeting called by Lockheed Martin. All DCS suppliers were invited along with many non-traditional industry suppliers who might build parts or all of the new architecture.

Stay tuned to this Blog as the development continues.

Dick Caro, CAP, ISA Fellow
CEO CMC Associates

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