Interoperability, standardization, and collaboration were the key words for OPC Foundation in 2016. Tom Burke, OPC Foundation President, recently recapped a busy 2016 for the Foundation. Adoption of OPC UA has been gaining momentum in the market. Collaboration with other groups is growing. And the technology is finally beginning to show significant use beyond industrial automation.
Burke says, “It has been a very exciting year. We have seen record growth in adoption of the OPC UA technology across multiple domains and vertical markets. The OPC Foundation policy of being truly open has expanded the reach of the OPC technology. The specifications are available to everyone, the technology is open sourced, and now we have opened up our certification labs to non-members.”
The OPC Foundation byline since the beginning has been recognized as the “The Interoperability Standard for Industrial Automation.” With the significant international membership growth and adoption of the OPC UA technology across multiple vertical markets the byline of the OPC Foundation has been ratified as “The Industrial Interoperability Standard.” This byline recognizes the case that OPC is no longer just for automation.
OPC UA specifications and technology are actively being deployed across global boundaries supplying the key infrastructure for everything related to the Internet of Everything (IIoT, Industrie 4.0, China 2025, IIC, M2M…); inclusive of:
- numerous testbeds with the OPC UA technology being standardized in the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC)
- being recognized as the communication and information modeling standard for Industrie 4.0
- OPC UA being finalized as a Chinese National Standard
In May 2016, BSI (German Federal Office for Information Security) conducted a thorough security analysis of OPC UA and found it exceeded the security requirements for Industrie 4.0.
Collaboration with numerous organizations beyond industrial automation is the strategy and path forward to allow information integration from the embedded world to the cloud.
New members and new products are emerging as end users are looking for information solutions for IIoT, and the OPC UA technology is well-positioned to address the needs of the Internet of Everything.
Numerous organizations continue to partner with the OPC Foundation and/or develop companion specifications for their respective information models to seamlessly plug into OPC UA.
Organizations announcing releases of their companion specifications in 2016 for the OPC UA technology included:
• VDMA: Injection Molding (status: release candidate)
• VDMA: Vision Cameras (status: in foundation)
• VDMA: Robotics, starting with the help of KUKA (status: in preparation)
VDMA is very active standardizing on OPC UA information models and expects to rollout a multitude of additional information models in 2017, leveraging OPC UA information integration communication as it’s strategy for seamless information integration and interoperability.
Board of Directors
Board members are elected as individuals for a two-year term. Elected to new 2-year terms were: Russ Agrusa, (ICONICS), Veronika Schmid-Lutz (SAP), Stefan Hoppe (Beckhoff) (also VP of OPC Foundation), and Matthias Damm (Ascolab). Also on the OPC Foundation Board of Directors are Thomas Burke (OPC Foundation), Thomas Hahn (Siemens) (also VP of OPC Foundation), Matt Vasey (Microsoft), and Ziad Kaakani (Honeywell) (also Treasurer of OPC Foundation), and Shinji Oda (Yokogawa).
September 14-15 found me back in Chicago for the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) and an IIoT conference sponsored by OMG and IIC. I’ll have several reports even though I fly to Sacramento Sunday for the Inductive Automation Ignition Customer Conference. (I’m writing this on Friday, but it may not get posted.)
Tom Burke, OPC Foundation President and Executive Director, stopped me as I walked the aisle. He talked about the cool things happening with OMAC. I do not know the technical details, but OMAC wishes to specify (not sure of exact technical term) OPC UA into its PackML as its communications protocol.
Turns out this is much more significant than I gleaned from the press release. By the time I waded through the marketing general statements, I gave up on reading the rest. For some reason, marketing and/or PR people seem to want to hit every buzz word in the beginning of a release in order to show relevance or something and then bury the good stuff almost off-hand in the bottom of the text.
This is a significant advance for interoperability. There remains a stance in the industry for point solutions that may be based on open standards, but are explicitly not interoperable—everything is held within the kimono, so to speak. Interoperability benefits an entire industry. The more that end users buy according to interop, the faster the pace of adoption will be.
IIoT and Pack Expo
Look for OPC Foundation (booth N-4702), PLC Open (booth N-4703), and OMAC (booth N-4800) at Pack Expo the first week of November. Be sure to vote first! Personally, I am torn between going to a single-supplier event or this one. Both are too expensive for the lone entrepreneur. I’ll wind up with one, though.
The OPC Foundation provided a couple of bullet points about its news:
- the results of joined collaboration between OPCF with OMAC about PackML mapping into OPC UA namespace
- the results of joined collaboration between OPCF and PLCopen about IEC61131-3 PLCopen Client FB to allow initiating an OPC UA connection from inside the controller
OMAC and IIoT
Here is the news from OMAC. “The Organization for Machine Automation and Control (OMAC), OPC Foundation, and PLCopen are working together to help advance communications protocols necessary for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to succeed.
Interoperability among devices and machines that use different protocols is a significant challenge in realizing the full potential offered by the Industrial Internet of Things. By collaborating on companion specifications to the standards and protocols they’ve already developed OMAC, OPC Foundation, and PLCopen can advance the quality and efficiency of data sharing and communication at the machine and production line and up through the enterprise. Collaborative efforts by standards organizations, such as OMAC, OPC Foundation, and PLCopen, align with the Industrial Internet Consortium’s goal to ultimately identify and define building blocks for interoperability that make smart factories and IIoT possible.
“Standards are needed to support communications from machine-to-machine and from the plant floor to interfaces that will allow large scale data analytics and information transfer,” says John Kowal, a member of OMAC’s Board of Directors, co-chair of the Industrial Internet Consortium’s Smart Factory Task Group, and business development director for B&R Industrial Automation Corp. “It just makes sense for these organizations which have individually done so much to advance automated manufacturing to collaborate and avoid redundant developments.”
Here’s how the three automation standards leaders are bringing their efforts together. One of OMAC’s major initiatives has been promotion of the ISA-TR88.00.02 automation standard commonly known as PackML. The second generation was released last year. Manufacturers and machine builders worldwide have implemented ISA-TR88 on various control platforms to increase speed to production, ease packaging line integration and improve reliability. While PackML defines machine modes, states and tag naming conventions, it does not specify a communications protocol.
The OPC Foundation’s Unified Architecture (OPC UA) is an industrial interoperability framework. It delivers information modeling with integrated security, access rights, and all communication layers to provide plug and play machine-to-machine (M2M) communication inside factories. It is scalable across the plant floor and from sensor to IT enterprise and cloud scenarios. OPC and PLCopen recently worked together to define a set of function blocks to map the IEC 61131-3 global standard for industrial controls programming to the OPC UA information communication model. The latest version was released earlier this year. IEC 61131-3 is the only global standard for industrial control programming and is recommended by OMAC in its Packaging Guidelines document.
To take their efforts to the next level, OMAC and the OPC Foundation have established a taskforce to develop a companion specification for ISA-TR88/PackML and OPC UA by the end of 2016. The task force led by Sari Germanos, open automation manager for B&R Industrial Automation, includes members of OMAC and OPC Foundation from around the world. Participation is open to interested members of either organization.
“A standard communication protocol, used consistently across the industry, is vital for realizing the full benefits of automation standards such as ISA-TR88, which then can be a valuable data source for smart factories and the IIoT,” says Dr. Bryan Griffen, OMAC Chairman and Nestlé Group Engineering Manager. “A companion specification between ISA TR88 and OPC UA fills this need and builds on the work completed with PLCopen earlier this year. The opportunities to transform manufacturing as hardware and software solutions are integrated through consistently applied, standardized protocols are extraordinary. We’re pleased to be a part of those efforts worldwide.”
“Today, there is more reason than ever to believe that communications standards will proliferate, as the IIoT drives the need to flatten network communication architectures,” says OPC Foundation Director Thomas Burke. “Along with organizations like OMAC and PLCopen, we’re actively engaged to do just that.”
“By collaborating and ensuring the standards we’ve developed work together we ensure transparent and fully secured communication right out of the box with standardized access between any OPC client and server via a secure channel, independent from network architecture and protocol or machine type and controls,” says PLCopen Managing Director Eelco van der Wal.
New podcast. Following up on my popular podcast on “Why Big Companies Hate OPC UA Embedded”, I review recent writing on OPC UA, REST, MQTT and Sparkplug relative to needed interoperability. I focus on watching how companies implement REST and MQTT–whether they are using an open transport to move proprietary data types, or whether they are truly embracing what end users want-true interoperability.
I’ve been writing about standards used in applications for Industrial Internet of Things and parts of the IoT ecosystem such as Big Data lately—REST, MQTT, and OPC.
Dennis Nash, president of Control Station noticed the series and called about a big data and IoT application using Control Station software as part of a system for helping engineers optimize control loops in a process plant.
Even if a plant has installed and uses an APC or MPC application, things happen that loops eventually slip out of tune. These loops can cost a plant a lot of money even though the process does not generate alarms or does not appear to be generating problems.
The system builds from historical loop change data recorded in an OSI PI historian. The data flows into a model of a tuned loop. Says Nash, “The basis for our innovation starts with a unique ability to model highly variable process data (i.e. noisy, oscillatory data). We use a proprietary method that no one has successfully emulated.”
He continues, “With the ability to accurately model highly variable data, control loop performance monitoring (CLPM) tools like ours can capitalize on the 100s/1000s of output changes that happen everyday. By aggregating the model date and comparing results with existing tuning parameters, CLPM tools are now getting into the Big Data game.”
Checking loop performance, especially when there are hundreds or thousands, rarely hits an engineer’s to-do list. This system will send a notification of worst actor loops where action can actually improve plant efficiency and profits.
This system works in a one-off application. What if there are more applications in a plant? That is where interoperability and standards come to play. Not so much a standard within Control Station, but where an application such as Control Station can use standards and data interoperability to grab data from a variety of sources. The extensive use of these standards and data interoperability enable the continual push of innovation and process improvement.
This essay is third in a series on moving data on the Industrial Internet of Things. We’ll take a look at OPC UA.
First we looked at Opto 22’s new product that provides for RESTful APIs as a way to open up information to move from platform to platform. This is relatively simple and understood by almost all recent college graduates. This method does not model data, but it can move vast amounts of data.
MQTT is a transport technology providing a low bandwidth middleware. However, developers have recently added a data model, MQTT Sparkplug. MQTT is agnostic as to the message. You can move data from all manner of sources—including OPC—using this transport. People began thinking there should be a way to describe the message within this ecosystem.
The Grandfather of them all
I reached out to Tom Burke, president of the OPC Foundation, for more information about how OPC UA fits into this picture.
So what is OPC UA? “OPC UA is about multivendor secure reliable interoperability for data and information integration from the embedded world to the cloud.”
The key to OPC is interoperability. It allows clients from one supplier to import data from another. Many years ago, for example, I was in the Wonderware labs. They had PLCs from almost all known suppliers. In order for its HMI/SCADA software application to work, developers had to write drivers from every one of those PLCs. With OPC, they could communicate with every OPC-enabled PLC. And so could every other supplier. It opened competition, the very thing that customers want.
That was more than 20 years ago. Today there are over 4,200 vendors who have OPC products in the marketplace. Or, as Burke puts it, “The days are over where the end users are willing to pay for multivendor interoperability by developing custom Software Solutions to integrate products from multiple vendors together.”
The OPC UA working group has already developed a simple https interface for UA that will meet and exceed the needs of many applications.
The biggest value is the data modeling/semantics OPC UA provides, followed by the security mechanisms.
I received this from the OPC Foundation:
So for any IoT application, one should ask:
- How do you model/describe your data?
- How do you store your data?
- How do you authenticate?
- How do you encrypt?
- Where do you store your secrets?
- What do you use for transport?
- Who/what can you connect to?
OPC UA can answer all these questions.
So, you can see that there are several options. It really depends upon your data needs. OPC UA guarantees interoperability. REST and MQTT are standards in themselves, but as a user you’d have to ask your supplier if they using them in an open manner. It’s possible that they are using an open standard in a proprietary way that promotes additional system integration business.
It all sounds confusing on the surface. Like any project you’re beginning, be clear about expectations and specifications up front. And, of course, maybe a blend is just right for you.