All the explanations of OPC Unified Architecture have seemed too complex. Well, the OPC Foundation knew that and has developed a very good overview description of the technology and its benefits. Check it out and let me know if it helps your understanding.
OPC UA Explained
by Gary Mintchell | Mar 18, 2010 | Automation | 2 comments
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Thanks for inviting comments on the OPC Foundations latest attempt to articulate the benefits of UA following a realisation that previous attempts have missed the mark.
It’s my personal view that this latest attempt has still fallen way short of what has been a repeated attempt by the masses to get a clear and simple business benefit case made for OPC UA. What’s been published in the section “The benefits of OPC UA for end users” is still largely about technology and why OPC UA is technically superior to OPC COM.
There’s no ‘business case’ messages anywhere that a Plant Manager would absorb and use as the basis for the justification to spend real money. Such a person will be asking questions like a) how much money will it save me, b) what can we do with it that we currently can’t do, c) how will this give me real business advantage over my competition, and of course, d) what’s the risks involved. The OPC UA story needs to answer all these questions, and more, using non technical dialog.
In my view it’s also missing the point when there is a section on “The benefits of OPC UA for vendors”. To my point above, the focus of the headline benefits of the story needs to be on what it can do for the end user businesses; vendors will find a way as they always do.
For me, the OPC UA story still gives the ‘colorful’ impression that it’s a complex/clever technical answer in search of the mainstream _real world_ business question(s) it addresses.
I’m hopeful for all those involved, that this will be resolved with an evolution of the story.
I notice that Mark is affiliated with a supplier that is a member of the OPC Foundation and not a practitioner/implementer. However, I asked Tom Burke, president of the OPC Foundation, for his thoughts on Mark’s questions. I thought that Mark somewhat missed the point of OPC–that it is a data/information connector. It’s probably not something that a plant manager is going to be concerned with. It’s something that that manager would ask engineers and technology staff–"can I get data from manufacturing / processes into an information system so that I can make decisions?" Or, "can I buy automation components from a number of suppliers in order to get the best for the application and still be assured that they’ll communicate?"
That summarized my thoughts. Here’s what Burke had to say:
My vision is to make OPC the USB of industrial automation and beyond. Plug in a device on a USB and it’s instantly recognized and you are able to magically do wonderful things with the data and behavior from the device. In the right scenario the devices actually recognize that knows actually what the capabilities are that the application can do with it. Shouldn’t you have the same expectations in industrial automation? We want to have "applications", whether hardware or software from multiple vendors really work together in a plug-and-play fashion like USB.
I really believe in this economy that your money is best spent focused on your domain. One of the key things necessary is to get you all the data and information that you need to make intelligent decisions. The days of the operator walking around with a clipboard writing things down are over. We are an information explosion mode. Getting the data information in a secure reliable fashion is the key to increasing manufacturing efficiency and lowering operating costs. A Plant manager shouldn’t have to be spending money to make multivendor systems work. They should be spending their money on increasing the efficiency of their operations, and being able to get all the data and information from all of their systems quickly, efficiently, reliably and securely.
To answer your questions specifically:
1) How much money will the plant manager save by using OPC Foundation technology?
a. The plant manager gets the opportunity to buy products from multiple vendors, without incurring any additional cost to make the products work together. The plant manager can make decisions on what products to buy and choose that are best suited to solve a specific problem without worrying about will the products work together with the rest of the system. The plant manager shouldn’t have to spend one single nickel making his complex systems work together in a multivendor scenario. A Plant manager shouldn’t have to spend one nickel buying nonessential products that essentially bridge or connect products from multiple vendors working together.
2) What does the OPC Foundation provide and what can you do with it that you can’t currently do?
a. The OPC Foundation provides a complete infrastructure. It’s about reliable secure information exchanges between applications in a multivendor scenario. You now have the capability of being able to use embedded devices because OPC UA runs natively in embedded device, which adds a significant opportunity for increased reliability. More importantly you should be able to get data and information easily accessible in a secure fashion throughout all of your system independent of the components and applications. It would be very easy for an end-user or with our new interface to be able to get data and information about the data, alarms and information about the alarms, historical data and information about the historical data. Ask your system integrator how complicated that was to do before with the existing OPC classic interfaces where there were 240 different interfaces, and now we’ve streamlined it down to 32 services where the difference between data and alarms isn’t the interface, it’s just a different type of data or information.
3) How does OPC give a real business advantage over the competition from a Plant manager perspective?
a. OPC allows a Plant manager to concentrate on his core business and not worrying about having to spend money and troubleshooting using products from multiple vendors and making them interoperate.
4) The risks involved with using OPC UA from a Plant manager perspective?
A number of end-users have discovered with the new volume of data and information that is now at their fingertips about their control systems has now exposed lots of missed opportunities that they had in the past with increasing the efficiency of their operations. Then, you have to be diligent with respect to configuring your access control with respect to what data information you want accessible. With OPC we’ve now opened the door to allow the end-users to do anything they want and to have full control over all their data and information. Finally, we’re deliberately focusing and making sure that all of the OPC classic technology works reliably and maps forward into the OPC unified architecture. We’re not about to leave behind the existing OPC classic products that you love or not love without having a seamless integration strategy to plug them into the new architecture.