OPC Standards are accelerating Industrial IoT transformation

  • September 21, 2015
  • Feature

By Rohit Bhargava, Microsoft

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). It’s everywhere, and it’s redefining the manufacturing industry with an unprecedented level of impact.

According to a recent report by The World Economic Forum (WEF), IIoT’s disruptive impact will bring about an "outcome based economy," one that is fuelled by software-driven services; innovations in hardware; and the increased visibility into products, processes, customers and partners. Businesses are quickly realizing that the true value of IIoT is not in the “things,” but in the data that these connected things provide.

Every business is becoming a software business and data is becoming the new currency that fuels opportunities for process improvements, human-machine interaction, cross-enterprise business workflows and even new business models. It’s the analysis and action from this data that manufacturers can use to drive real-time insights, revenue, and customer loyalty to move their business model from individual products to value-added, data-driven services that customers really want.

Interoperability as a Key Factor  This year’s Hannover Messe Industrial Fair illustrated this trend through the theme of Industrie 4.0, which brought to life the vision of the "intelligent factory," where information is seamlessly exchanged between machines and products, ensuring optimal results and peak efficiency. As we showed off real-world IIoT showcases with our customers and partners at the Hannover Messe Microsoft booth, interoperability surfaced as a key theme (together with security), in our Industrie 4.0 and IIoT discussions with customers.

In fact, the WEF report says the greatest barriers keeping businesses from adopting IIoT are the lack of interoperability or standards (according to 65% of survey respondents) followed closely by security (64% of respondents). It’s the lack of interoperability that significantly increases complexity and cost in Industrial Internet systems.

Standards to Accelerate Adoption  While IoT standards and interoperability are likely to be subjects of ongoing debate and discussion over the next few years, there are already well-established standards in industrial and manufacturing environments that can accelerate the shift to outcome-based models. Leveraging these standards in place, together with new IoT capabilities, enables companies to deliver new value-added services without waiting for long term retrofits of the industrial base. And there are very real risks for those organizations who move too slowly to embrace this change.

In fact, OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) is a platform independent service oriented architecture that provides standard models for secure and reliable information exchange in industrial automation across a range of manufacturing and resource industries. Developed by the OPC Foundation, OPC UA has long been an established standard for data exchange and interoperability between factory-level devices, supervisory and control systems, manufacturing execution systems, and enterprise applications such as ERP and SCM. As a vendor independent international standard it is also published as the IEC 62541 specification.

Industrie 4.0 and IIoT require contiguous communications of data through all layers and levels in the digital factory, extending to enterprise systems, as well as externally to cloud-based services and other Internet services. With more than 10,000 OPC products available in the marketplace today, and deployments estimated to be in the tens of millions of instances, OPC UA enables companies to get started on business transformation today.

With the breadth of this legacy installed base across the global industrial landscape, together with the familiarity of OPC technologies in the manufacturing ecosystem, it stands to reason that the OPC standard can accelerate transformation in these environments through next generation IIoT applications based on data aggregation at scale, advanced analytics, machine learning, and new forms of human-machine interaction.

OPC Foundation also extends its standards reach by collaborating with other standards and consortia including BACnet, MTConnect, EtherCAT, MDIS, PLCOpen, AIM (for AutoID) and others to promote data interchange across heterogeneous domains and industries—something essential to help enable a fully digital industrial economy.

The aggregation and federation of data throughout the manufacturing value chain, including the supply chain, energy, utilities, and real-time customer communications, enable a holistic approach to more efficient production within and across industries.

New capabilities such as predictive maintenance and energy optimization are enabled and new business models can be based on services delivered toward customer outcomes as opposed to product transactions. And, innovative pure-play digital companies can potentially disrupt incumbents based on value creation from such aggregated data pools.

How Microsoft is Helping To truly become a digital business, manufacturers need to harness the data spanning their businesses and operations by connecting their things – the people, processes and assets already at work in the company – supported with applications and intelligence available in the cloud. Microsoft is helping manufacturers seamlessly grow from where they are today to realizing this new value and exploring new business models.

Recently, Microsoft announced that Windows 10 IoT Core will be free for Makers and commercial devices builders to help accelerate innovation and adoption of modern technology for IoT devices. Windows 10 will power a range of intelligent connected IoT devices from industrial PCs to mobile point-of-sale terminals to powerful industry devices like robotics and specialty medical devices. Windows 10 IoT offers a converged platform for devices with enterprise-grade security from the device to the cloud, and native connectivity for machine-to-machine and machine-to-cloud scenarios with Azure IoT Services. Windows 10 IoT now supports OPC-UA, demonstrated through the Beckhoff Automation CX5130 industrial PC at the recent OPC Day Europe event in May 2015.

In March, during Microsoft Convergence 2015, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced the Azure IoT Suite. The Azure IoT Suite is an integrated offering that takes advantage of all the relevant Azure capabilities to connect devices and other assets (i.e. “things”), capture the diverse and voluminous data they generate, integrate and orchestrate the flow of that data, and manage, analyze and present it as usable information to the people who need it to make better decisions as well as intelligently automate operations. OPC members have already created a cloud bridge, essentially a software component acting as an OPC client towards one or several OPC UA servers and relaying data to a cloud-based messaging gateway, often using the robust ISO/IEC standardized AMQP 1.0 protocol..


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