IT meets Automation with OPC UA

  • July 21, 2014
  • Feature

By Bill Lydon, Editor

OPC Day Europe 2014 was host by FESTO in Esslingen, Germany on May 14-15. An educational session about the basics of OPC-UA technology preceded the event. Stefan Hoppe, OPC President Europe, opened the conference, welcoming 191 attendees from 15 different countries. Tom Burke, Worldwide President and Executive Director of the OPC Foundation, then introduced the conference theme - IT meets Automation. FESTO’s Helmut Deichert, Head of Product Management Business Unit Electrical Automation, welcomed attendees and described the company’s commitment to OPC UA. FESTO implements OPC UA in their products, including the CPX controllers.

Industry 4.0 Needs OPC UA

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Detlef Zuehlke, Director Innovative Factory Systems IFS German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, DFKI GmbH and Chairman Executive Board SmartFactoryKL e.V., described the new production paradigm based on standards. Prof. Zuehlke emphasized that Industry 4.0 needs OPC-UA. Zuehlke noted that the Internet of Things vision, which includes connecting people and services, leverages open communications and embedded-to-enterprise computing. Referring to the Gartner hype cycle model (, he suggested that Industry 4.0 is close to the peak of inflated expectations as seen with many evolving technologies. Prof. Zuehlke went on to say that Industry 4.0 is evolving to satisfy real customer needs. He believes it is leading to expanded adoption of smart automation in the 2015 time frame.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Detlef Zuehlke, Director Innovative Factory Systems IFS German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, DFKI GmbH and Chairman Executive Board SmartFactoryKL e.V., described how the new production paradigm requires open standards like OPC UA.

Technological change is required for manufacturers to compete internationally and achieve shorter product life cycles and higher quality. This can be accomplished by creating smart flexible manufacturing using the latest information and communications technology. Prof. Zuehlke described a future with a highly distributed architecture. Smart machine modules and field devices will incorporate micro web servers and create cyber physical systems. He noted that standards are available to accomplish this vision, including electromechanical, Ethernet, wireless, OPC UA, EDDL, and Web Services. The new system vision encompasses the entire lifecycle, from initial product concept to end of useful life. Prof. Zuehlke summarized Industry 4.0 as a vision for the production of the future based on global standards.

OPC UA Update

Matthias Damm, OPC Technical Advisory Council Member, presented an update on the impressive OPC UA developments. He reviewed the major benefits of OPC UA. OPC UA provides a secure cross platform protocol and generic services for multivendor interoperability. OPC UA is an enabler for Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things. The next version of the OPC UA specification (1.3) is planned for later in 2014.  It includes a number of new features Network Discovery and Application Authentication. One major strength of the standard is it provides a framework and transport for various industry groups to leverage OPC UA for a wide range of applications.

Damm then provided an overview of the industry cooperations with the OPC Foundation, as follows:

Analyzer Device Integration (ADI) - Information model for process analyzers driven by vendors implementing the model.

Field Device Integration (FDI) - FDI on final step to IEC Standard. FDI Server represents Device Types and Device Instances as OPC UA Information Model.

PLCopen OPC UA Function Blocks - IEC 61131-3 Software Model mapped to OPC UA Information Model. OPC UA Communication Function Blocks simplify connections with automation applications.

Auto ID (AIM) - Auto ID (RFID, etc.) is becoming an intregal part of production. The industry association AIM and OPC UA have initiated a Smart Devices Working Group to leverage information models.

ISA 95 OPC UA Object Model - OPC UA mapping ISA 95 Resources Models.

BACnet for Building Automation - There is a release candidate specification for OPC UA to BACnet objects, BACnet events to OPC UA alarms, BACnet logging to OPC UA HA, BACnet structure to OPC UA structures, BACnet units to OPC UA units.

MCS-DCS Interface Standardization(MDIS) - MDIS selected OPC UA as the Master Control System (MCS) and Distributed Control System (DCS) protocol standard to simplify implementation of data communication links for offshore oil and gas production. This provides secure and reliable data transfer. OPC UA is being used for communication between Subsea Production and DCS Systems.

ISA 95, OPC UA for AutoID (AIM) - Simplifying enterprise to control system integration. OPC UA for ISA 95 Common Object Model, Version 1.0, was released in October 2013.

MTConnect - In September of 2010, MTConnect Institute and OPC Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) resulting in a working group. OPC UA provides secure, reliable, high-speed communications of MTConnect models for interoperability between manufacturing equipment, devices, and software applications. A release candidate is available.

IT Meets Automation

Rüdiger Fritz, Product Owner of SAP Plant Connectivity, disucssed the value of OPC UA to provide seamless visablity in the manufacturing industry. Fritz discussed how OPC UA is reshaping the automation pyramid, eliminating software layers between controllers and SAP manufacturing execution solutions. Benefits include:

  • No double maintenance of master data
  • Reduction of set-up times
  • Higher flexibility regarding lot-size and product variants
  • Maintain all automation-relevant data within the ERP and SAP ME

Thoughts & Observations

It is impressive that a wide range of industry users, associations, and experts understand the barriers to creating new production models. They recognize the value of OPC UA as an integral part of this new vision.

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