A small group of companies proposed a marketing initiative promoting OPC UA over a new Ethernet standard called Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) in 2017 at Hannover Messe. I was privileged to sit in a meeting to listen to the proposal and subsequently wrote a white paper about it. I believe this is revolutionary technology for the information part of manufacturing technology.

Meanwhile, Rockwell Automation is beginning to regularly surprise me. They first went out of their twice to talk about truly adopting OPC UA and introduced a module for its control platform using it. The company has a long standing reputation for getting involved in standards it doesn’t directly control for the purpose of delaying adoption. But this seemed like a genuine adoption of interoperability recognizing that customers are demanding freely flowing information from a variety of sources.Just to add to my surprise was an announcement I heard about at Hannover that Rockwell Automation has joined that group of OPC UA over TSN companies, now dubbed the “Shapers”. This group is rapidly moving toward critical mass with rumors swirling about companies not (yet) a part of it.

The press release (I haven’t yet had an interview) states Rockwell Automation is joining industry leaders ABB, Belden, Bosch Rexroth, B&R, Cisco, Hilscher, KUKA, National Instruments, Parker Hannifin, Phoenix Contact, Pilz, Schneider Electric, TTTech and WAGO (collectively known as Shapers) to create a communication solution for real-time and sensor-to-cloud applications in industrial operations.

The solution will be based on the OPC UA protocol, which allows easy and secure sharing of information across different vendor technologies and the time-sensitive networking (TSN) suite of standards, which helps improve latency and robustness in converged industrial networks.

“Connecting technologies across an industrial organization while maintaining multivendor interoperability requires a harmonized, interoperable solution that uses consistent information models, communication and application behavior (together known as application profiles),” said Paul Brooks, business development manager, Rockwell Automation.

“That’s what this group of automation leaders are combining their expertise to create. Our solution will give manufacturing and industrial organizations best-of-breed I/O device control, motion and safety application profiles,” said Sebastian Sachse, B&R Industrial Automation.

To ensure the emerging OPC UA TSN solution supports interoperability of different vendor technologies on the same network, the companies are engaging with industry consortia such as Avnu, IEEE, IIC, LNI 4.0 and OPC Foundation. The companies are also planning an announcement in the coming months on how to achieve unified application profiles, which is the last hurdle to device harmonization. They aim to provide one-stop-shop certification of the overall solution up to the device-profile level.

The companies have already published whitepapers on OPC UA TSN technology, such as an IIC whitepaper on converged traffic types. They have also made significant contributions to the recently released PubSub extension of OPC UA, and plan to set up a collaboration between the IIC and LNI testbeds.

This potentially holds great promise for end user companies and systems integrators. We can only hope it progresses.

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