When ExxonMobil Research & Engineering announced in January that it had awarded Lockheed Martin a contract to act as lead system integrator for the development of a next generation process automation system, it had many pundits in the process automation community (including yours truly) scratching their heads. Sure, Lockheed Martin helps create mission critical systems for aerospace and defense, but what do they know about controlling an oil refinery?
But as I’ve come to understand more details of ExxonMobil’s vision, I see the choice as both inspired and potentially disruptive. Consider a recent soundbite: “Innovation is being stifled by legacy architectures and hardware that just can’t be that responsive.” This quote isn’t from anyone at ExxonMobil or in the process automation sector, but from U.S. Navy leadership. Indeed, the armed forces face many of the same challenges that companies like ExxonMobil do: aging, monolithic, proprietary systems that are both expensive and inflexible.