As an APC engineer, my expertise is at level 2 and level 2.5. I never thought of how to integrate a shift handover application with GAS accounting until Yokogawa Europe started the Yamal project in Russia. At that moment an idea jumped into my mind; what if we have a centralized data platform that stores the data, process data, FIN data, asset data, supply chain data, QHSE data, and all of the other data you can name, as a pool, so that every application can exchange information with it without worrying about protocols? This idea came to me by thinking about the iPhone health app.

After one year, I found that there are many people who were far ahead of me in thiking about this concept.  Look at the structures below. Theese are from ExxonMobil, NAMUR, Aramco and Shell.


In ExxonMobil’s structure (my personal favorite), Distributed Control Node (DCN) could be the game changer for all DCS vendors. The DCN is the smallest, lowest level, and lowest cost component in the ExxonMobil Open Process Automation (OPA) vision. A DCN combines the capabilities of today’s DCS I/O modules and controllers but on a far smaller scale. Some DCNs might be dedicated to controlling a single process loop, interfacing to just two to three process field devices and executing a very small number of control function blocks i.e. a more distributed DCS. This is very interesting when few years back a lot of people talked about moving DCS to the cloud.

Another key point of the ExxonMobil vision is “real-time service bus”, not a DATA bus. Inside an enterprise, an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) is a flexible solution to have services and applications interact with each other, independently of their location and connectivity requirements. This sounds very similar to what Yokogawa supplied to Yamal as middleware.

In the ExxonMobil structure, the applications are running on an operating platform or a business platform. These platforms can be a local private cloud or public cloud; more or less these solutions are independent of the platform.

Today people are talking about digital transformation and the smart plant. From my understanding, it should include the components below:

  1. An infrastructure that can deliver the data to the applications. Wireless sensors, 4G transmitters, edge computers, DCN, OPA, ESB, this is related to IIoT. The IIoT will enable the acquisition and accessibility of far greater amounts of data, at far greater speeds, and far more efficiently than before. All these sensors and instrumentation will have to follow the same communication protocols so that the customer has the flexibility to select the best product from the market without worrying about the integration
  2. The integration of applications. Automation vendors are offering L3 solutions such as shift handover, e-log, work instruction, mobile solutions, CMMS, etc. and most of the time these applications are working independently. Again, taking iPhone as an example, the best app that monitors your calorie balance and the best app that tracks your work-out is probably from two developers. You may like these apps to share the data with each other so that you have a holistic picture of your health. This integration is not only about packages or middleware but will change the organization. For example, Yamal IPMS team has to help the customer to review/update their workflow via the integration of Operations Management software. So, a practice of software integration affects a company’s organization.
  3. I believe cybersecurity is not only about the firewall, router, whitelist, blacklist, patching, anti-virus, etc. Let’s use “flow assurance” as an example. Flow assurance is a term in the oil and gas industry. It refers to ensuring a successful and economical flow of hydrocarbon streams from the reservoir to the point of sale. The financial loss from production interruption or asset damage due to flow assurance mishap can be astronomical. Flow assurance is everything that ensures a flow is delivered at the right time to the right place in a safe and economical manner. In my view, cybersecurity is all about how to deliver information at the right time to the right application/equipment in a safe and economical way. In a smart plant, cybersecurity is from field to L4 platform, from edge to the cloud, from equipment to applications, it is everywhere.

After all the technical discussion, I would like to conclude this article with the MOST important question. What can all of these new technologies bring to the customer???

Yokogawa believes our mission is to improve our customers agility and resilience by integrating business and operational domains using the latest technology. For example, at Yamal, Yokogawa integrated around 30 L3/L4 applications to ensure their business readiness on plant startup. Instead of a traditional “point-to-point” approach, Yokogawa setup a holistic information system to manage the data transport which guarantees the right information to the right user with the highest security level. Yokogawa’s ‘digital twin’ solution aims to provide high level decision support for asset management and process optimization. In another example, Yokogawa’s plant wide temperature sensing enables ‘no-blind-spot’ temperature monitoring which provides the ability for rapid countermeasures by detecting hot spots on surfaces of tanks and furnaces. In short, Yokogawa is developing our digital portfolio from hardware to software and from sensor to application, to be one of the leaders in IIoT/Industry 4.0