Open Standards, Global Initiatives Help Modernize Operations

Open Standards, Global Initiatives Help Modernize Operations
Open Standards, Global Initiatives Help Modernize Operations

Open standards are essential for effective manufacturing business digitalization, which is evident in the information technology (IT) and commercial computing industry. The influence of the IT, Internet of Things (IoT), and computing industry is leading to a great deal of collaboration among these groups. Key initiatives are listed throughout this article.

Multi-vendor open standards foster a broad selection of products and vendors for end users to choose from; this competition is what drives innovation. Application developers can take advantage of the levels of compatibility afforded by the standards, which, in turn, helps developers create new applications that might not have been previously possible.

The shared investment and creative talent from many companies designing to share open standards is much larger and stronger than any single supplier. The most obvious examples are the open Internet standards, which are the cornerstone of the Internet’s success. They enable its existence, facilitate its growth, and provide a platform that supports creativity, which benefits all users. Open standards are emerging all over the world to target many specific needs. Here are the ones influencing OT application development.

Worldwide Industry 4.0 initiatives The impact of open manufacturing initiatives continues to advance worldwide as countries and industry recognize the need to modernize, while the Industry 4.0 movement continues to accelerate. This has defined a model for all industrial manufacturing organizations to use to achieve the goal of holistic and adaptive automation system architectures. Sustained competitiveness and flexibility to the dynamic technological growth can only be accomplished by leveraging these advanced technologies, using automation as a center to enable a successful transition. Germany’s Industry 4.0 initiative ignited worldwide cooperative efforts in other countries including China, Japan, Mexico, India, Italy, Portugal, and Indonesia.

The RAMI 4.0, Reference Architecture Model Industrie 4.0 (Industry 4.0) developed by the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association (ZVEI) has gaining broad acceptance throughout the world describing manufacturing enterprises.

Figure 1: RAMI 4.0 is a three-dimensional map showing the most important aspects of Industrie 4.0.

The Open Group, the Open Process Automation Forum

The Open Group’s Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF), formally launched November of 2016, continues to advance since it published the first standard in a series. OPAF is focused on developing a multivendor standards-based, open, secure, and interoperable process control architecture. The Open Group has a track record of success in this area with the FACE standard, which has led to the deployment of higher function software designed to lower lifecycle cost. The defense avionics industry is a good example of one that has transitioned from a proprietary solution to fully open systems architecture. Digital automation architecture synchronizes the entire manufacturing business for profits.


Sparkplug is an open-source software specification that provides MQTT clients the framework to seamlessly integrate data from their applications, sensors, devices, and gateways within the MQTT Infrastructure. Sparkplug provides an open and freely available specification for how edge of network (EoN) gateways or native MQTT-enabled end devices and MQTT applications communicate bidirectionally within an MQTT infrastructure.

Industry 4.0 for process

The Industry 4.0 for Process effort describes smart-networked sensors as a foundational part of the Industry 4.0 process architecture. These sensors communicate with controls and automation systems, and simultaneously and directly with business systems. This effort—the application of Industry 4.0 concepts to improve process automation—is being driven by NAMUR and VDI/VDE in collaboration with several prominent leaders in the industry, including ABB, BASF, Bayer Technology Services, Bilfinger Maintenance, Endress+Hauser, Evonik, Festo, Krohne, Lanxess, Siemens, and Fraunhofer ICT. The concepts are expressed in NAMUR’s Process Sensor 4.0 Roadmap, which describes smartnetworked sensors as a foundational part of the Industry 4.0 process architecture.

Modular design for system flexibility

Open standard modular design is a growing trend that empowers subject matter experts to concentrate on manufacturing and production to achieve objectives, rather on than low-level engineering and programming tasks. Modular design subdivides a system into modular functional components with embedded control, automation, and defined behaviors and interfaces. For example, skid subsystems using defined open interfaces can be independently created, modified, replaced, or exchanged with other modules or between different systems, making use of industry standards for interfaces, which ensures interoperability. Modular system design elements can be upgraded multiple times during a system’s lifetime without purchasing a completely new system, improving cost and operation.

This modular production addresses common user complaints where vendors deliver various pieces of equipment that do not directly and intelligently communicate with control, automation, asset management, and business systems. Modularity offers benefits such as reduction in cost (customization can be limited to a portion of the system, rather overhauling the entire system), interoperability, shorter learning time, and design flexibility. This also lowers the dependency of users on the uniqueness of unique vendor interfaces and lockin. Industry is moving toward modular use case defined models for equipment and processes to achieve a wide range of benefits including:

  • Modularity
  • Design efficiency
  • Installation, commissioning and startup efficiency
  • Standardized and reliable data
  • Interoperability
  • Higher reliability and quality.


PackML is an example of module design created by the Organization for Machine Automation and Control (OMAC) in conjunction with the International Society of Automation (ISA) using ISA-88 State Model concepts as an example of a modular design element that is an industry technical standard for the control of packaging machines. PackML brings a common “look and feel” and operational consistency to all machines that make up a packing line. The standard PackML information model can be easily loaded into any OPC UA server TR88.00.02-2021.

Module type package

“Module type package” (MTP) is a key concept for standardized nonproprietary description of modules for process automation. The structure of modular plants described is in many ways, a recasting of ISA88 and ISA95 with automation using plug-and-produce models that are vendor-independent descriptions of the information needed to integrate modules. For this, the data generated during the engineering of a module is provided by the module manufacturer in an XMLfile called a “module type package (MTP).” The MTP includes many attributes including alarm management, safety and security, process control, HMI and maintenance diagnostics

Multivendor control standards

There are emerging initiatives for a common control runtime software engine to make all industrial controls compatible to achieve multivendor program transportability with two current IEC 61499-focused initiatives, namely Eclipse 4diac and runtime.

The major architectural difference between IEC 61499 and IEC 61331-3 is the program execution models. The IEC 61331-3 follows the traditional PLC architecture with a deterministic model of reading inputs, resolving logic, and executing outputs. IEC 61499 is event driven; the main function block is triggered to execute based on an event signal presented to the input of the “event execution control” input that then activates execution of “encapsulated functionality” that is defined to be executed (figure 2). This provides the user with a great deal of control over function executions with the responsibility to coordinate execution timing to meet application requirements. The most common event architecture people use today is Microsoft Windows.

Figure 2: The main function block is triggered to execute based on an event signal presented to the input of the “event execution control” input that then activates execution of “encapsulated functionality” that is defined to be executed.

Eclipse 4diac Eclipse 4diac is an open-source project fostering the further development of IEC 61499 for its use in distributed Industrial Process Measurement and Control Systems (IPMCS) and further distributed research results from the original contributors. From the beginning, it provided everything necessary to program and execute distributed IPMCS. 4diac became one of the main sources for IEC 61499-based research and development. It has been successfully applied in several industrial systems including manufacturing systems, logistics, power and energy applications, robotics and building automation.

In 2007 the IEC 61499 open source 4DIAC project was started and now offers all software necessary to program and execute control and automation applications.

4diac engineering software

The 4diac IDE is built on the established Eclipse open-source framework, which allows an easy integration of other plug-ins to the 4diac IDE providing new or extended functionality. IEC 61499 based systems follow an application centric design, which means that the application of the overall system is created at first. Each application is created by interconnecting the desired function blocks (FB) in terms of a function block network (FBN). As soon as the hardware structure is known, it can be added to a project’s system configuration and the already existing application can be distributed onto the available devices.

Figure 3: 4diac IDE is based on the Eclipse framework.

4diac FORTE: IEC 61499 runtime environment

The 4diac FORTE is a small portable implementation of an IEC 61499 runtime environment targeting small, embedded control devices (16/32 bit), implemented in C++. It supports online-reconfiguration of its applications and the real-time capable execution of all function block types provided by the IEC 61499 standard. 4diac FORTE supports all IEC 61131-3 edition 2 elementary data types, structures, and arrays. It provides a scalable architecture that allows 4diac FORTE to adapt to the needs of the application. Applications can consist of any IEC 61499 element as basic function blocks (BFBs), composite function blocks (CFBs), service interface function blocks (SIFBs), adapters, and sub applications.

4diac LIB: IEC 61499 function block library

The 4diac function block library (4diac LIB) contains function blocks (FB) that are available on 4diac FORTE and can therefore be used to create IEC 61499-compliant control applications. launched November 2021 is an independent, not-for-profit association providing paying members in good standing a controlled IEC 61499 runtime engine software through a shared source licensing agreement. The initial UniversalAutomation. org runtime engine is the Schneider Electric nxtControl IEC 61499 Runtime Engine licensed royalty free to the organization by Schneider Electric. Based on membership level, users have licenses to use in the IEC 61499 runtime code in product offerings. Further details can be found here. is early in development with only an IEC 61499 runtime engine offering at this early stage compared to 4diac, which has a complete open-source IDE engineering software suite and IEC 1499 runtime engine. The licensing approach is another major difference:

  • The components of Eclipse 4diac are provided under Eclipse Public License, Version 2.0.
  • shared source licensing agreement, unlike open-source software, prohibits members from making changes independently and is governed by voting members.

Deploying systems requires members to develop an IEC 61499 editor supporting the runtime engine. The organization does not intend to create an IEC 61499 editor or compiler. plans to define a set of rules and syntax designers at member companies will use to create compilers compliant with the IEC 61499 runtime engine code. John Conway, president of said the quickest way today is to license EcoStruxure Automation Expert editor software from Schneider Electric.

This feature originally appeared in Bill Lydon's 7th Annual Industrial Automation & Control Trends Report.

About The Author

Bill Lydon brings more than 10 years of writing and editing expertise to, 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 and 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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