OPC Foundation Extends Work To Field Layer Specifications

Whatever happened to Time Sensitive Networking (TSN)? I had been pondering the relative disappearance of several technologies creating buzz in 2020—TSN, Arduino, Raspberry Pi. Then came buried within the OPC Foundation discussion with us at the 25th ARC Industry Forum this month word of TSN.

This appears to be the last of the updates I received at ARC this year. OPCF president Stefan Hoppe began with a photo of the unusual amount of snow around his house in Germany (as I was contemplating my yard in my new house in the Chicago suburbs with about 2 feet of snow blanketing the area. Meaning—none of us were in Florida this year).

I wrote last month about the Field Level Communications standard work. In this, 300 experts from 60 major companies published a Technical Paper and completed Initial Release Candidate. OPCF continues work on the networking side with this FLC specification along with work on the “Advanced Physical Layer”, which is a new Ethernet cabling standard. Hoppe stated the mission, “…in order to drive industrial interoperability from field to cloud (and vice versa) and to support IT/OT convergence.”

Work has also started on identifying and creating facets and profiles that define the mandatory feature sets for the various types of automation components which is essential to reach a high level of cross-vendor interoperability.

Hoppe continued, “Ethernet APL and TSN are important enablers, which allow OPC UA to further penetrate new application areas in process and factory automation. The OPC Foundation’s Field Level Communications Initiative bundles these activities and acts as a global center of gravity for a unified OPC UA-based industrial interoperability solution harmonized between the process industry and factory automation.”

Peter Lutz, Director of the FLC Initiative, said, “The initial release candidate, which was completed in November 2020, is a major achievement because it facilitates the long-awaited standardization of Controller-to-Controller (C2C) connectivity. The specifications are used not only to build prototypes, they are also used to create test specifications that will be converted to corresponding test cases for the OPC UA certification tool (CTT). Furthermore, it lays the foundation for specification enhancements, covering the Controller-to-Device (C2D) and Device-to-Device (D2D) use cases in the next step.”

The initial release candidate (RC1), which focuses on Controller-to-Controller (C2C), consists of four parts (Parts 80-83) that specify how automation controllers exchange process data and configuration data using OPC UA Client/Server and PubSub extensions in combination with peer-to-peer connections and basic diagnostics.

These parts are extensions to the OPC UA framework and are labelled with OPC UA FX (Field eXchange):

  • Part 80 (OPC UA FX 10000-80) provides an overview and introduces the basic concepts of using OPC UA for Field eXchange.
  • Part 81 (OPC UA FX 10000-81) specifies the base information model and the communication concepts to meet the various use cases and requirements of Factory and Process Automation. 
  • Part 82 (OPC UA FX 10000-82) describes networking services, such as topology discovery and time synchronization.
  • Part 83 (OPC UA FX 10000-83) describes the data structures for sharing information required for Offline Engineering using descriptors and descriptor packages.

In addition, a 40-page technical paper was published that explains the overall vision and the technical approach.

Since the Advanced Physical Layer (APL) and Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) are key technologies for the OPC Foundation’s strategy to bring OPC UA down to the field in discrete and process industries, different cooperation strategies have been established:

  • The OPC Foundation has joined the Advanced Physical Layer Project Group (APL) to support the development and promotion of the Advanced Physical Layer (APL) for Industrial Ethernet, suitable for use in demanding applications and hazardous locations in the process industry.
  • The OPC Foundation has established liaisons with IEC SC65C as well as IEEE 802.1 in order to support and align with the IEC/IEEE 60802 TSN Profile for Industrial Automation, which is essential in building converged industrial automation networks in which multiple IT and OT protocols share a common network infrastructure. 

Industrial Internet Consortium Launches IIoT RFP Toolkit

Free Step-by-step Wizard Creates RFP Content to Jumpstart IIoT Projects

Two problems consistently present themselves for open, collaborative, and even open-source projects to gain wide adoption. The specifications must be adopted as a corporate standard. The buying authorities, whether corporate or plant, must define the specification as part of the bid package.

Each of these is a hurdle. The first can be overcome by including as many end user corporations as feasible in the standards development process. The second can be a major roadblock, especially if the purchasing authority is decentralized and perhaps not technically aware and more apt to be influenced by the local specified supplier sales team.

Those influences make it imperative that the standards bodies make it as easy as possible to specify the standard as part of the bid package. I’ve seen failure upon failure because of this one roadblock. That makes this new toolkit from IIC that much more valuable.

The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) has released its IIC RFP Toolkit, a collection of best practices and online tools to help guide IIoT project managers and procurement managers and buyers through the process of procuring all the different components and resources required for a complete end-to-end IIoT solution.

“Digital Transformation (DX) projects require unique procurement skills to navigate the considerations needed when building an RFP. The procurement process for a typical IoT project is quite different from that of an enterprise software project,” said Dirk Slama, Director of the Co-innovation Hub at Ferdinand-Steinbeis-Institute.

“This IIC toolkit helps IIoT project managers and procurement managers/buyers through the process of procuring all the different components and resources required for a complete end-to-end IIoT solution. The RFP wizard helps users create and manage effective RFPs for IIoT solutions, helping to ensure that users of IIoT technology are using the right partners and getting the best possible IIoT solution for the most affordable price,” said Transforma Insights Founding Partner Jim Morrish.

The IIC RFP Toolkit is comprised of six modules, developed by the IIC member ecosystem of IIoT technology users, vendors, and consultants. These modules are:

  • Challenges, risks, and mitigation
  • Project planning
  • RFP creation
  • RFP wizard
  • RFP distribution and vendor selection
  • Expert advice and discussion

“As companies struggle to ensure they are successfully setting up their digital transformation projects it becomes more important to see what the rest of the market is doing and that’s exactly what we’ve provided with the IIC RFP Toolkit. Our ecosystem of members, from across the IIoT landscape, provide insights and lessons they learnt from their own projects and created the modules in the RFP Toolkit. The IIC ecosystem is unparalleled in its ability to crowdsource solutions and share best practices to solve IIoT and digital transformation challenges,” said IGnPower Executive Vice President Bassam Zarkout.

The IIC RFP Toolkit is accessible for free on the IIC Resource Hub, a central repository for the collective resources of the IIC community. Conversations about common challenges and crowd-sourced answers from IIC members can be found on the IIC Community Forum, the space for industry experts to exchange ideas, to discuss Industrial IoT (IIoT) problems in need of solutions and to network.

ONF Announces Aether 5G Connected Edge Cloud Platform

Many industry pundits and observers seem to not understand all the ramifications and potentials for 5G. I’ve listened to podcasts from John Gruber at Daring Fireball and the guys at Accidental Tech Podcast talk about how 5G isn’t providing the anticipated boost for data speeds for their new iPhone 12s. But 5G provides for so much more than that.

I’ve had an opportunity to talk with people from the new Open Networking Foundation and check out this open-source community springing up. Here is a recent press release. Open source is burgeoning right now. Cynics say it’s just a way for big companies to cut development costs. I think it goes much deeper than that given licensing protocols and the spread of technology. This one is interesting and poised to take (among other things) Industrial Internet of Things to a deeper level.

The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) announced that ONF’s Aether 5G Connected Edge Cloud platform is being used as the software platform for the $30M DARPA Pronto project, pursuing research to secure future 5G network infrastructure.

DARPA is funding ONF to build, deploy and operate the network to support research by Cornell, Princeton and Stanford universities in the areas of network verification and closed-loop control. ONF will enhance and deploy its open source Aether software platform as the foundation for the Pronto research work, and in turn the research results will be open sourced back into Aether to help advance Aether as a platform for future secure 5G network infrastructure.

Aether – 5G Connected Edge Cloud Platform

Aether is the first open source 5G Connected Edge Cloud platform. Aether provides mobile connectivity and edge cloud services for distributed enterprise networks as a cloud managed offering. Aether is an open source platform optimized for multi-cloud deployments, and it simultaneously supports wireless connectivity over licensed, unlicensed and lightly-licensed (CBRS) spectrum.

Aether is a platform for enabling enterprise digital transformation projects. Coupling robust cellular connectivity with connected edge cloud processing creates a platform for supporting Industrial Internet-of-Things (IIoT) and Operational Technology (OT) services like robotics control, onsite inference processing of video feeds, drone control and the like.

Given Aether’s end-to-end programmable architecture coupled with its 5G and edge cloud capabilities, Aether is well suited for supporting the Pronto research agenda.

Aether Beta Deployment

ONF has operationalized and is running a beta production deployment of Aether.  This deployment is a single unified cloud managed network interconnecting the project’s commercial partners AT&T, Ciena, Intel, Google, NTT, ONF and Telefonica. This initial deployment supports CBRS and/or 4G/LTE radio access at all sites, and is cloud managed from a shared core running in the Google public cloud.

The University campuses are being added to this Aether deployment in support of Pronto. Campus sites will be used by Pronto researchers to advance the Pronto research, serving as both a development platform and a testbed for use case experimentation. The Aether footprint is expected to grow on the university campuses as Aether’s 5G Connected Edge Cloud capabilities are leveraged both for research on additional use cases as well as for select campus operations.

Aether Ecosystem
A growing ecosystem is backing Aether, collectively supporting the development of a common open source platform that can serve as an enabler for digital transformation projects, while also serving as a common platform for advanced research poised to help unlock the potential of the programmable network for more secure future 5G infrastructure.

At Google Cloud, we are working closely with the telecom ecosystem to help enable 5G transformation, accelerated by the power of cloud computing. We are pleased to support the Open Networking Foundation’s work to extend the availability of 5G and edge capabilities via an open source platform.” 

Shailesh Shukla, VP and GM, Networking, Google Cloud

Cornell is deploying Aether on campus to bring private 5G/LTE connectivity services with edge cloud capabilities into our research facilities.  We expect private 5G/LTE with connected edge cloud to become an important and integral part of our research infrastructure for many research and operational groups on the campus.  We also see the value of interconnecting a nation-wide leading infrastructure with Stanford, Princeton and ONF for collaborative research among university researchers across the country.”

David Lifka, Vice President for Information Technologies and CIO, Cornell University

Princeton University is deploying Aether on campus in the Computer Science Department in order to support the Pronto research agenda and offer it as an experimental infrastructure for other research groups. This deployment will enable private 5G/LTE connectivity and edge cloud services and will complement Princeton’s existing P4 enabled infrastructure on campus. We plan to also explore how some of our mission critical production use cases can be supported on a private 5G Connected Edge Cloud.”

Jay Dominick, Vice President & CIO, Princeton University

Ciena is pleased to be an early collaborator on the ONF’s Aether project.  We have an Aether site running in our 5G lab in Montreal, and we are excited by the prospect of helping enterprises leverage the 5G and edge cloud capabilities of Aether to help build transformative solutions.”

Stephen Alexander, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Ciena

 “Intel is an active participant of the ONF’s innovative Aether project to advance the development of 5G and edge cloud solutions on high volume servers. ONF has been leading the industry with advanced open source implementations in the areas of disaggregated Mobile Core, e.g. the Open Mobile Evolved Core (OMEC), and we look forward to continuing to innovate by applying proven principles of disaggregation, open source and AI/ML with Aether, the Enterprise 5G/LTE Edge-Cloud-as-a-Service platform. As open source, Aether will help accelerate the availability of innovative edge applications. Aether will be optimized to leverage powerful performance, AI/ML, and security enhancements, which are essential for 5G and available in Intel® Xeon® Scalable Processors, network adapters and switching technologies, including Data-Plane Development Kit (DPDK), Intel® Software Guard Extensions (Intel SGX), and Intel® Tofino™ Programmable Ethernet Switch.”

Pranav Mehta, Vice President of Systems and Software Research, Intel Labs

Learn More

The Aether ecosystem is open to researchers and other potential partners who wish to build upon Aether, and we welcome inquiries regarding collaboration.  You can learn more at the Aether website.

About the Open Networking Foundation:

The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is an operator led consortium spearheading disruptive network transformation. Now the recognized leader for open source solutions for operators, the ONF first launched in 2011 as the standard bearer for Software Defined Networking (SDN). Led by its operator partners AT&T, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Google, NTT Group and Türk Telekom, the ONF is driving vast transformation across the operator space. For further information visit http://www.opennetworking.org

OPC Foundation In The News

OPC Foundation has released a lot of news at the end of 2020. Its working groups have been busy.

  • Cloud Library with CESMII
  • Field Level Communications
  • ECLASS Standard for M2M Communication
  • Update to PLCOpen 61131-3 specification

Cloud Library

The OPC Foundation, in collaboration with CESMII, is pleased to announce the launch of the “OPC UA Cloud Library” Joint Working Group (JWG). The goal of the JWG is to specify how OPC UA information models of machines, SCADA and Manufacturing Execution Systems will be stored in and accessed from a cloud-based database.  Such a database will enable manufacturers to draw from a wide range of OPC UA information models and profiles for use in their pre-built shopfloor and business digitalization applications.

Collaboration between the OPC Foundation and the Smart Manufacturing Institute is a natural fit given their complementary efforts. On one hand, the US government-backed Smart Manufacturing Institute sets out to help accelerate the adoption of Smart Manufacturing by businesses of all sizes by enabling frictionless movement of information (data and context) between real-time operations and the people and systems that create value in their organizations. On the other hand, the OPC Foundation created a globally adopted open data interoperability standard via its OPC UA specification. The specification’s information modeling capabilities and secure, scalable communications made it a cornerstone of Industrie 4.0 and virtually every other national Industrial IoT initiative. By working together, CESMII and the OPC Foundation aim to enable the broadest range of US manufacturers and beyond to innovate and go-to-market in their digital transformation using the right data modeling foundation.

Field Level Communications

OPC Foundation announces today that its Field Level Communications Initiative has accomplished a significant milestone in the ongoing project by completing their initial release candidate with the focus on the Controller-to-Controller (C2C) use case. In addition, a technical paper has been published that explains the technical approach and the basic concepts to extend OPC UA to the field level for all use cases and requirements in Factory and Process Automation.

Peter Lutz, Director Field Level Communications of the OPC Foundation says: “We are happy about the progress that our working groups have made over the last months, despite COVID-19 and the associated restrictions. The initial release candidate is a major achievement because it is used to build prototypes and to create test specifications that will be converted to corresponding test cases for the OPC UA certification tool (CTT). Furthermore, it lays the foundation for specification enhancements to also cover the Controller-to-Device (C2D) and Device-to-Device (D2D) use cases in the next step.”

Since the start of the Field Level Communications Initiative in November 2018 more than 300 experts from over 60 OPC Foundation member companies have signed up for the various technical working groups to create the technical concepts and elaborate the specification contents for extending the OPC UA framework for field level communications, including Determinism, Motion, Instruments and Functional Safety.

Cooperation with ECLASS

An important step for interoperability in the field of M2M communication: the OPC Foundation and ECLASS e.V. signed a cooperation agreement.

The goal of this cooperation is to combine the power of the OPC UA and ECLASS standards to better enable M2M interoperability via seamless communication of data and semantics using a standardized set of interfaces. To serve as the basis for semantic interoperability across full product life cycles in an international application environment, a manufacturer and industry independent standard for product description is needed. Once created, such a standard can serve as a semantic reference for the Internet of Things. The ECLASS standard, developed by ECLASS e.V. meets these requirements in a unique way.

The OPC UA standard enables secure transmission of data and facilitates the definition and dynamic exchange of its underlying structure via robust OPC UA information modeling functionality. Standardized information models implemented using OPC UA are called OPC UA Companion Specifications, which taken together can serve as common libraries of Information Models. Products utilizing OPC UA Companion Specifications enable seamless 3rd party data interoperability in the operating phase in the product lifecycle. Today, ECLASS identifiers are already being used in various Companion Specifications. 

Update to PLCOpen OPC UA for IEC61131-3

The OPC Foundation, in collaboration with PLCopen, announced the release of v1.02 of the “OPC UA for IEC61131-3” specification. Building on the first version of the specification, the joint working group added: 

  • support for all datatypes defined in the 3rd edition of IEC61131-3
  • an optimized, machine-readable version of the information model (i.e. nodesetfile) 
  • compliance with enhanced specification templates to support the tool chain used to generate validated information models
  • inclusion in the global online searchable specification reference 
  • OPC Foundation Compliance Test Tool (CTT)  test cases for validation of vendor implementations of “OPC UA for IEC61131-3”

Founded in 2008, this joint working group has the goal of expressing IEC 61131-3 information models using OPC UA.  By doing so, an IEC6-61131-3 PLC project that is loaded onto different control platforms can be displayed in a standardized form and made available for communication via the controllers’ OPC UA servers.

“This first step harmonizes the access of the project running in the controller” says Eelco van der Wal, Managing Director of the PLCopen organization. “With this an unprecedented transparency is created in the communication in industrial automation, enabling the configuration of the communication much faster and independent of the network and suppliers. For this reason, many suppliers have implemented this, providing their users with the ease of use in communication.”

In addition to the server specification “UA for IEC61131-3” the group also worked very successfully on the “client specification” which was originally released in 2014. The implementation of this functionality on a controller makes it possible to initiate a communication session to any other available OPC UA Server. The controller can exchange complex data structures horizontally with other controllers independent of the fieldbus system used, or vertically with other devices using an OPC UA server service oriented architecture, like an MES/ERP system in order to collect data or write new production orders to the cloud.

MESA Announces Version 7 Release of B2MML-BatchML Specifications

I was happy to see the group behind B2MML and BatchML find a home at MESA International after some abortive attempts with other organizations. Looks like the partnership has been good.  This month’s news is that MESA International announces the release of Version 7 of the B2MML and BatchML specifications. B2MML (Business to Manufacturing Markup Language) and BatchML (Batch Markup Language) are XML schema definitions that are implementations of the ISA-95 Enterprise/Control System Standard. The BatchML schemas were integrated into the B2MML namespace several versions ago, therefore the downloads and documentation of B2MML also includes BatchML files. Great leadership by Dave Emerson and Dennis Brandl and the group.

This major release supports the 2018/19 versions of the ISA-95 and IEC 62264 specifications. Version 7 adds important new elements to B2MML including spatial locations, material and other resource testing information, standardized error message handling, and work calendars. This version also includes the first B2MML-JSON schema definition, supporting transfers of JSON files in addition to XML files. 

Dennis Brandl, member of the MESA XML Committee responsible for the B2MML standard updates, states, “This version has undergone extensive testing and reviews to ensure that the ISA-95 standard is fully implemented in B2MML V7. We’re excited about the updates made to the specifications to bring them up to date with the ISA-95 standard, as well as the new features that have been added.” 

Companies interested in following ISA-95 for integration projects may use B2MML to integrate business systems such as ERP and supply chain management systems with manufacturing systems such as control systems and manufacturing execution systems. B2MML is a complete implementation of ISA-95. Any company may use B2MML royalty free provided credit is given to MESA.

Download the updated version for free by creating an account on MESA’s Online Learning & Resource Center.

Industrial Internet Consortium Technical Report Defines Framework for Distributed Edge Computing

The trend du jour no doubt includes computing at the edge to enhance the Industrial Internet. This news from the Industrial Internet Consortium shows how companies working together can develop a common set of standard frameworks to assure interoperability.

Moving computing from the cloud to the edge increases the performance, trustworthiness, and efficiency of industrial IoT applications

The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) announced the publication of the Industrial Internet of Things Distributed Computing in the Edge Technical Report. Designed for IoT system architects and implementers, the report describes a distributed computing framework that moves the capabilities of data center-based cloud computing closer to intelligent IoT devices at the edge.

“In edge computing, data, networking, storage, and computing are distributed throughout layers of edge computing nodes from IoT devices to the data center – distributing the economies of scale of cloud capabilities throughout the system,” said Chuck Byers, Co-Chair, IIC Distributed Computing Task Group, and Associate CTO of IIC. “The migration of cloud capabilities into the edge allows data, storage, and computation to gravitate to where it can be handled most efficiently, whether in a data center or the edge.” 

The technical report includes: 

  • A structural and functional framework for distributing computing in the edge
  • Definitions of key architectural concepts employed in distributed edge computing 
  • Essential capabilities of an edge system’s elements 
  • Security and management functions 
  • Essential interfaces for these elements 

System architects can use the framework as a template to derive a concrete distributed computing architecture. Operations technologists, information technologists, network and business managers can use the report to learn more about the essential elements and advantages of distributed computing in the edge.

“Distributed computing, and the nodes and edge systems that form its key components are essential to the success of organization’s critical IoT systems and digital transformation plans,” said John Zao, Co-Chair, IIC Distributed Computing Task Group. “By moving to a distributed edge computing architecture, organizations across industries can reduce costs and meet critical performance, trustworthiness, and efficiency requirements for their IoT applications.”

The Industrial Internet of Things Distributed Computing in the Edge Technical Report is free of charge. The technical report and a list of authors who contributed to it can be found on the IIC website

The Industrial Internet Consortium has the goal of accelerating adoption of a trustworthy internet of things. The Industrial Internet Consortium is a program of the Object Management Group (OMG).