UniversalAutomation.org Launched to Achieve Multivendor Industrial Control Program Portability

UniversalAutomation.org Launched to Achieve Multivendor Industrial Control Program Portability
UniversalAutomation.org Launched to Achieve Multivendor Industrial Control Program Portability

Announced November 2021, the formation of the UniversalAutomation Organization is a bold strategy to achieve multivendor industrial program portability and interoperability with a single IEC 61499 runtime code in PLCs, DCS controllers, instruments, actuators, edge computers and IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) devices. 

UniversalAutomation.org is an independent, not-for-profit association managing the implementation of an industrial automation shared source runtime, based on the IEC61499 interoperability standard. To help launch the organization, Schneider Electric is donating nxtControl IEC 61499 runtime engine code. The goal is to achieve industrial application program portability and interoperability between controllers.


Interview

I had a discussion with the UniversalAutomation.org president John Conway and Greg Boucaud, chief marketing officer, to learn more. Because the organization is just starting, it does not have any employees, just volunteers, including Conway and Boucaud, who currently are Schneider Electric employees. John Conway noted, “the longer term vision is the UniversalAutomation Organization will have employees including a team developing the runtime and a management team.”


Runtime code

Portability and interoperability are accomplished by members all using the UniversalAutomation Organization IEC 61499 runtime code under strict configuration control. Strict configuration control is achieved with members agreeing to the UniversalAutomation Shared Source licensing agreement that unlike open-source software prohibits members from making changes independently. Governance of proposed changes and additions to the UniversalAutomation IEC 614 99 runtime code will be made by the organization’s voting members.

The initial UniversalAutomation.org runtime engine is the Schneider Electric nxtControl IEC 61499 Runtime Engine Code. Greg Boucaud described the rationale: “We are using the runtime which is today in the Schneider Electric EcoStruxure Platform, this runtime will be royalty free licensed to the organization which is the Schneider Electric nxtControl runtime code.” 

John Conway added, “This code is shared-source, not open-source, for several reasons and is done deliberately because we have to establish critical mass in the market.” He explained the ability make changes to open-source code drives defeats portability and interoperability. They expect to see the first non-Schneider Electric implementations based on the UniversalAutomation.org runtime in 2022. 


IEC 61499 Editor

Deploying systems requires members to develop an IEC 61499 Editor supporting the UniversalAutomation.org runtime engine. The organization does not intend to create an IEC 61499 editor or compiler. Conway and Boucaud plan to define a set of rules and syntax designers at member companies will use to create compilers compliant with the UniversalAutomation.org IEC 61499 runtime engine code.

John Conway described the quickest way today is to license EcoStruxure Automation Expert editor software from Schneider Electric. He noted this is the approach member Phoenix Contact is taking to quickly deploy IEC 61499 with the UniversalAutomation.org runtime engine.


Controller to controller interoperability

We discussed how UniversalAutomation.org is accomplishing controller to controller interoperability. They are using Ethernet UDP messaging between controllers directly rather than an industrial networking protocol or messaging standard (i.e. EtherNet/IP, Profinet, OPC UA/FLC. Etc.). Communications between nodes of control is a point of weakness I had seen in early IEC 61499 applications but to be fair the technologies have advanced significantly.

The OPC foundation recently demonstrated controller to controller communications between 20 vendors using the OPC UA FX (Field eXchange) standard.
 

Key points:

  • Members Use Single IEC 61499 Runtime Code

  • Controlled Shared Source Licensing vs Open-source Code

  • Schneider Electric Donating nxtControl IEC 61499 Runtime Engine Code


Membership

UniversalAutomation.org membership levels of Platinum, Gold and Silver are granted a royalty free IEC 61499 runtime code Shared Source license. Access to the source code for academics and startup companies will be determined on a case by case basis by the organizations Board of Directors. The final membership details will be published in January 2022.

Membership Level

Annual Fee
Euro

Voting Rights

Runtime Code Access

General

Roadmap1

Platinum

150,000

1

10

Yes

Gold

75,000

1

4

Yes

Silver

25,000

1

1

Yes

Sponsor Voting

18,000

1

0

No

Sponsor Non-voting3

2,000 – 8,000

0

0

No

Startups4

6,000

0

0

TBD2

Academic

2,000

1

0

TBD2

  1. Roadmap voting rights applicable in phase 2

  2. Access to source code determine in case by case basis by Board of Directors

  3. Revenue dependent: < €10m = €2k, €10m - €100m = €5k, > €100m = €8k

  4. Conditions (duration, revenue levels, etc.) determined by Board of Directors

One of the goals is to recruit user members in addition to vendors creating an appropriate ecosystem as an organization.  Boucaud explained the goal is to grow membership to reach a level of membership, “to sustain the continued development of the runtime.” 


Members

The organization has only been charted since October 2021 and the current founding & intended members include: Aalto University, Advantech, Asus, Belden, Cargill, eaw Relaistechnik GmbH, ESA, ETP, Flexbridge, Georgia-Pacific, GR3N, Hirschmann, HTW Berlin, Intel, Jetter, Johannes Kepler  University Linz, Kongsberg Maritime, LuleĆ„ Technological University, Lumberg Automation, Phoenix Contact, ProSoft, R. Stahl, Schneider Electric, Shell, VP Process, Wilo, Wood and Yokogawa. Others are expected to join soon, with the organization actively recruiting new members.


Licensing

Boucaud: “Shared Licensing principal so all members have the same runtime and access to the same source code to guarantee portability and interoperability of the hardware.” He explained this provides the flexibility to the runtime inside a wide range of devices with embedded processors including sensors, actuators, pumps and instrumentation. He the leaves this guarantees integrity and interoperability. Members will decide the roadmap of the runtime and vote on it and there’s only one runtime. 

The UniversalAutomation.org Shared License for the IEC 61499 runtime essentially creates a proprietary offering controlled by the membership. Designated membership levels based annual monetary contribution to the organization have access to the IEC 61499 runtime for use in their products.


Governance

The UniversalAutomation.org is structured similar to many other industry groups.

A work in progress

UniversalAutomation.org has been announced, and John Conway discussed the significant amount of work to be done with many tasks to build out the organization including definition of editor requirements, compliance testing and target hardware requirements. The organization is actively recruiting members to participate.

About The Author


Bill Lydon brings more than 10 years of writing and editing expertise to Automation.com, plus more than 25 years of experience designing and applying technology in the automation and controls industry. Lydon started his career as a designer of computer-based machine tool controls; in other positions, he applied programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and process control technology. Working at a large company, Lydon served a two-year stint as part of a five-person task group, that designed a new generation building automation system including controllers, networking, and supervisory & control software.  He also designed software for chiller and boiler plant optimization. Bill was product manager for a multimillion-dollar controls and automation product line and later cofounder and president of an industrial control software company.


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