This article first appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of The Record.
Many people in the manufacturing industries believe the internet of things (IoT) and Industrie 4.0 are essentially stuck at the concept level and there is no standard available for tools and solutions today in the automation market.
However, this is only perception – the reality is a completely different story. How prepared are you to leverage ALL data created by the 50 million connected devices from automation suppliers that are already out there?
There is no longer an excuse or source of blame for missing out on standardised connectivity. Establishing secure connectivity based on an international standard that is platform independent, reliable and vendor-neutral has an answer today.
The transport of raw data and pre-processed information from the manufacturing level up to production planning, enterprise resource planning systems (ERP) and the cloud can be solved by using globally recognised OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) technology. This technology has already been named the recommended communication technology for Germany’s Industrie 4.0 initiative and has gained backing from the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). BSI thoroughly analysed OPC UA data security and published a highly positive review during Hannover Messe 2016.
OPC UA provides security mechanisms that are built-in by design and enable machine builders to configure which data and interfaces are available to which authorised clients – and which data will receive protection and encryption.
Microsoft realised the power of OPC UA technology early and integrated it deeply into the Microsoft Azure cloud platform and gateways – sharing part of their code as open source. At Hannover Messe 2016, attendees crowded the Microsoft booth to see live demos with different kinds of devices from many vendors that all connected to Microsoft Azure. Some devices pushed telemetry data directly into Microsoft Azure. However, interaction back from the cloud to the device was just as available with quickly-established connections and no extra software implementation required – all in a BSI-validated and Industrie 4.0 proven security mechanism.
However, OPC UA is not limited to Microsoft technologies. For legacy devices, OPC UA gateways are available and connectivity to machines in the field can be enabled as OPC UA guarantees not only vertical connectivity, but also horizontal interoperability amongst devices.
In combination with gateways, about 50 million devices in the automation market that have the potential to share 100% of their data today are addressable immediately. As OPC UA is a market-independent technology that is growing rapidly into other domains, the result is a truly massive and rapidly expanding ecosystem.
Consider secure connectivity in automation to be solved – did you start building your disruptive services with advanced analytics and Microsoft Azure IoT?
Stefan Hoppe is global vice president of OPC Foundation
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