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OPC Foundation: the united nations of automation

OPC Foundation: the united nations of automation
Stefan Hoppe talks about adopting open platform communications unified architecture

Richard Humphreys |

This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.  

Today, the open platform communications unified architecture (OPC UA) is the gravitational centre when it comes to secure, standardised information exchange from the sensor to the cloud. The potential of OPC UA is enormous and is experiencing popularity in all areas.  OPC Foundation is sending this message home. 

OPC Foundation has already established itself as the united nations of automation – it is where all automation manufacturers, and also IT companies, come together to meet on neutral ground in order to operate common standards. However, it’s standing across the industry is about to increase further thanks to a new initiative to further enable OPC UA adoption throughout industrial automation by extending standardisation and harmonisation activities for OPC UA including time-sensitive networking (TSN) enabled Ethernet networks.

Within weeks of announcing ‘OPC UA including TSN down to field level’, the rapid engagement of leading automation suppliers has illustrated the resonance of this initiative with the emerging needs of automation users. Committed contribution to the initiative reads like a who’s who of leading suppliers, including ABB, BECKHOFF, Bosch-Rexroth, B&R, Cisco, Hilscher, Hirschmann, Huawei, Intel, Kalycito, KUKA, Mitsubishi Electric, Molex, Omron, Phoenix Contact, Pilz, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Siemens, TTTech, Wago and Yokogawa.

The goal of this initiative is to deliver an open, cohesive approach to implement OPC UA including TSN and associated application profiles. This will advance the OPC Foundation providing vendor independent end-to-end interoperability into field level devices for all relevant industry automation use-cases. The OPC Foundation vision of becoming the worldwide industrial interoperability standard is advanced by integrating field devices and the shop floor.

A new set of working groups will identify, manage and standardise the OPC UA relevant topics focused on industrial automation, including: harmonisation and standardisation of application profiles e.g. IO, motion control, safety, system redundancy; standardisation of OPC UA information models for field level devices in offline e.g. device description and online e.g. diagnostics; mapping of OPC UA application profiles related to real-time operations on ethernet networks including TSN; and the definition of certification procedures.

The working groups will closely align with the TSN Profile for Industrial Automation (TSN-IA-Profile) which will be standardised by the IEC/IEEE 60802 standardisation group. This will help ensure that a single, converged TSN network approach is maintained so that OPC UA can share one common multi-vendor TSN network infrastructure together with other applications.  

This initiative integrates well with existing joint working groups engaged in ongoing companion specification such as description of machines.

The technical work will begin 7 January 2019 and the working groups will be open to all members of the OPC Foundation. Initial work will focus on the core functionality of field device communication, developing a next generation architecture and general model for devices which can be adopted as easily as possible by automation suppliers. This architecture and general model will be expanded with device-type specific functionality by specialist working groups. Extended OPC UA standardisation documents will be published including test scenarios and certification procedures to ensure that the wider community can build compliant devices. 

Stefan Hoppe is president of the OPC Foundation

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