OPC UA enables Industrial Information Revolution

  • October 22, 2012
  • Feature
OPC UA Summit 2012
October 2012
By Bill Lydon, Editor
Based on presentations at the first OPC Technology Summit October 16-18, 2012 in Orlando, Florida, it is clear that OPC UA is transformational and changing the architecture of industrial automation systems. The Summit featured various speakers including end-users, industry experts, and suppliers. Tom Burke, President and Executive Director of the OPC Foundation, outlined the major application domains for OPC technology as industrial automation, building automation, embedded devices, energy management (Smart Grid), manufacturing enterprise management, M2M (Machine to Machine), and cloud-based computing.
OPC UA technology provides an efficient and secure infrastructure for communications and has the potential to be the standard of choice to complete the vision of IP to the edge, commonly referred to as the “Internet of Things.” OPC UA is leveraging accepted international computing standards, putting automation systems on a level playing field with the general computing industry. OPC UA uses common computing industry standard Web Services which are the preferred method for system communications and interaction for all networked devices. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C, www.w3.org) defines a Web Service as "a software system designed to support interoperable machine-to-machine interaction over a network.”
The big idea is that OPC UA objects leverage the Internet Protocol (IP) and provide an open architecture transparent mechanism to link information throughout an automation system, including to the enterprise and internet. There are great opportunities in linking sensors to enterprise and controllers to controllers to increase production and responsiveness of manufacturing and processes.
OPC UA can reside at all levels of a system including controllers and embedded controllers. One way to think about how powerful this can be is to consider the functions most of us use on a Blackberry, iPhone, or other smart phones. These functions (e-Mail, Web browsing, video, GPS, etc.) were previously only available on a computer. Single chip processors with high power and low cost can easily support OPC UA, thereby creating powerful controllers and sensors.
Integrating Automation
To provide the interoperability that users rely upon, Tom Burke described the importance of collaboration and compliance. The OPC Foundation cooperates with a number of other organizations to build value for end users.   Presentations at the Summit discussed various cooperative relationships and illustrated the flexibility and openness of OPC UA.
The OPC Foundation is a major contributor to the TIA TR‚Äê50 Framework for Intelligent Device / “Smart” Devices.
MTConnect has defined an XML data model for manufacturing machines. In cooperation with the OPC Foundation, an OPC UA companion specification is being developed.  
The new OPC-UA/ISA95 Specification and implementations will allow real time access to critical data by serving as a bridge between the slow speed and occasional access requirements of corporate systems and high speed requirements of MOM (Manufacturing Operations Management) systems. The key part of this cooperation is incorporating the B2MML XML standard for ISA95 into OPC UA data models
PLCopen and the OPC Foundation have been collaborating for a few years. Together, they developed IEC 61131-3 PLCopen function blocks that incorporate OPC UA. These function blocks make it easy for PLC programmers to seamlessly link information directly from controllers to other systems and business enterprise systems.  The new function blocks allow users of PLCopen certified controllers (PLCs) to expose information in a semantic, standardized way to transparently exchange data between SCADA/MES/ERP systems and from PLC to PLC.  More information.
Roland Essmann, MES Lead person of Elster Inc., described how he used a Beckhoff PLC controller with embedded OPC UA server to communicate directly to SAP Plant Connectivity (PCo) with the OPC UA function blocks. He explained how the function blocks provide a direct linkage, improve speed and simplify software maintenance by eliminating interposing gateways and servers.   Essmann noted the system integration was significantly more efficient. “I was surprised how fast MES and PLC people worked together in the sand box,” said Essmann.
Another example of cooperation is the OPC UA Analyzers Device Information (ADI) Model used to simplify and standardize communications with process analyzers.   ABB and Yokogawa discussed how they have added ADI to their products.
Oil Drilling Rig
Mbaga Ahorukomeye of Schlumberger Architecture, gave a very interesting presentation about using OPC UA for Drill Automation. OPC UA allowed them to optimize operations and improve drilling time from 8.5 to 5.4 days. The Oil Drilling industry has a Well Information Transfer Standard (WITSML) based on XML and is incorporating this into the OPC UA model to efficiently and securely communicate.
Plastic Machines
Softing presented the application of OPC UA in plastics machines manufactured by ARBURG of Germany.   ARBURG used the Softing OPC UA toolkit to embed an OPC UA server in their Pentium III embedded injection molding machine controller. The benefits for ARBURG's customers include reduced installation, simpler commissioning, and simplified integration of the machines into higher-level applications.
Thoughts & Observations
The beauty of OPC UA is that it is not tied to any operating system and can easily be implemented on common single chip processors that incorporate communications. Since OPC UA uses standard web services, controllers using mainstream embedded real-time operating systems already have the “system plumbing” to incorporate OPC UA servers. Vendors, including Beckhoff, Siemens, B&R, and Bosch-Rexroth, are embracing OPC UA at a surprisingly fast rate by bringing products to market today.
OPC UA helps make the digital factory a reality by utilizing open computing industry standards and streamlining the integrated factory architecture with direct communications to enterprise systems.

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