- By Bill Lydon
- January 04, 2021
- OPC Foundation
The OPC UA FLC (Field Level Communication) initiative revolutionizes industrial communications to achieve integrated manufacturing business operations from sensor to enterprise and cloud.
The OPC UA FLC (Field Level Communication) initiative revolutionizes industrial communications to achieve integrated manufacturing business operations from sensor to enterprise and cloud. OPC UA FLC provides a common logical communications framework simplifying application engineering to achieve results with minimum effort. The OPC UA FLC initiative currently has 160 members from 43 companies. The OPC Foundation Board is committed to open manufacturing and process automation integration. The OPC Foundation board of directors is committed to open digital automation integration of manufacturing businesses from sensor to board room. Current board members:
It is worth noting that Google joined the OPC Foundation in June 2020 as an addition to its 773 member community. In line with its Industrie 4.0 effort, Google Cloud will use the OPC UA open standard to incorporate machine data into analytics and AI solutions.
Dominik Wee, managing director manufacturing, Industrial and Transportation, Google Cloud, commented on the decision to join the OPC Foundation: “We’re honored to join the OPC Foundation and our membership underscores Google Cloud’s commitment to openness and industry collaboration. OPC UA will be our way of incorporating machine data into our data analytics and AI capabilities, to ultimately drive new capability and performance within the factory. By driving AI across the value chain, our goal is to provide flexibility and choice at industrial scale.”
Integrating islands of automation
FLC overcomes the shortcomings of existing industrial networking protocols that create islands of automation in manufacturing and process plants requiring layers of gateways and industrial middleware to achieve production goals. OPC UA FLC streamlines existing multilayered architectures that are complicated resulting in decreased reliability & availability requiring ongoing configuration control all resulting in high lifecycle cost. This issue has become larger with the growing use of skid equipment that have various types and brands of controls.
Information modeling is a major advantage of OPC UA inherently expressing the meaning of data making systems more intelligent and agile with higher performance. OPC UA has been designed for scalability and supports a wide range of application domains, ranging from field level (e.g. sensors, actuators, RFID & BAR code readers), to enterprise management with a multi-layered architecture.
Companion specifications allow subject matter experts throughout industry to easily define systematics and data models for a wide range of use cases to leverage the OPC UA platform. Companion specifications include Machinery, AutoID, MDIS (Oil & Gas), Machine Tools, CNC, FDT, Tobacco Machines, IEC 61850, PackML, Kitchen Equipment, Robotics, Machine Vision, ISA-95, Plastic & Rubber Machinery, Analyzers and Weighing. These standards promote common data formats and information exchange facilitating seamless integration to achieve integrated manufacturing business operations from sensor to enterprise and cloud.
FLC Communications Initiative Leverages Established Industry Standards and Knowledge
NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA)
OPC UA had been selected as a foundation standard for the NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) and the OPC Foundation has a very close relationship with NAMUR. The OPC Foundation believes the OPC UA with the FLC extensions is in the best position to successfully establish it as the standard for the 1st channel for NAMUR field devices part the NAMUR Industry 4.0 for Process initiative.
Peter Lutz was hired by the OPC Foundation in April, 2019 as Director Field Level Communications to lead the OPC UA Field Level Communication (FLC) initiative. Peter is an electrical engineer with deep industry experience and knowledge.
“Among many other skills, Peter Lutz knows how to achieve cross-vendor interoperability. Peter’s experience as director of Sercos International Peter has experience and know how for the task at hand. This will bring the users of the OPC Field Level Communication Standard a lot of advantages,” commented Thomas Brandl from Bosch Rexroth, who is chairman of the FLC Steering Committee.
The FLC initiative started in November 2018 to create an open, uniform, secure and standards-based IIoT communication solution between sensors, actuators, controllers, enterprise, and cloud that meets all the requirements of industrial automation factory automation and process automation. The OPC UA Field Level Communication (FLC) initiative goals include:
- Secure & reliable Communications
- Vendor, Platform & Domain Agnostic
- Interoperability from Sensors to Enterprise & Beyond
In the December 2020 FLC Webinar Clark Case (Rockwell Automation), FLC Chair, Technical Working Group & Architecture Team described the evolution leading to the FLC initiative:
First wave of field bus: The field bus wars
- Different media, different protocols
- Getting different vendors‘ devices to talk to each other expensive, slow and unreliable
Second wave of field bus: Industrial ethernet
- Devices from many vendors can live on the same networks
- Gateways still needed to enable exchange of data
OPC UA Field Level Communications is driving the third wave
- High performance cross vendor interoperability no gateways required.
CASE described the core connection goals:
- Controller-to- Enterprise & Cloud
- Controller-to-Controller (PLC, DCS Controller, etc.)
- Controller-to-Device (Sensor, Motor Drive, Actuator, Motor Controls, etc.)
- Enterprise & Cloud to Device
- Enterprise & Cloud Interconnectivity
The first release will be focused on Controller-to-Controller communications to solve an ongoing source of problems for users trying to achieve effective coordinated automation throughout production and process operations. Today this requires various extra interfaces resulting in poor system reliability, extra engineering, and increased lifecycle costs. The goal is common data models and semantics for peer-to-peer control and data communications between controllers from different vendors.
More Information about the FLC technical working groups and the steering committee and sub groups can be found here. Anyone interested in joining and participating in working group should contact Peter.email@example.com.
Peter Lutz describes FLC as transforming extending OPC UA to meet all requirements of digital manufacturing.
Holistic & adaptive manufacturing
OPC FLC supports Industry 4.0 and related initiatives to create holistic and adaptive manufacturing, delivering a logical next step for industrial automation systems to achieve more responsive and efficient production. Industrial and process automation architectures are being redefined to enable digitalization of manufacturing to be competitive and profitable. The industrial automation industry is in the midst of sweeping, fundamental change with manufacturers leveraging digitalization to be competitive and profitable. OPC UA FLC is another one of the building blocks falling into place to achieve integrated manufacturing businesses from sensor to enterprise. The Reference Architectural Model Industrie/Industry 4.0 reflects integrated digital industry and incorporates Lifecycle Management IEC 62890:2020, IEC 6224 based on ANSI/ISA-95, and IEC 61512-1 based on ANSI/ISA-88.
OPC Standards Support the latest RAMI 4.0 reference model. RAMI 4.0 is a three-dimensional model represent the most important aspects of Industrie 4.0 ensuring all participants involved share a common perspective and develop a common understanding.
The latest automation innovations are enabling users to create more responsive system architectures to achieve increased reliability and performance, in addition to lower software maintenance costs. OPC FLC is a big step forward evolve system architectures and spawn exponential industrial automation innovation.
The OPC UA Roadmap highlights recent and future enhancements to the OPC UA standard.
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