This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.
There’s a common misconception that the OPC Unified Archictecture (UA), in combination with the various information models of the Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA) only caters for the discrete manufacturing industry. This one-dimensional perspective is now changing thanks to the launch of the O-PAS Standard, a vendor-neutral reference architecture developed by The Open Group, to enable the construction of scalable, reliable, interoperable and secure process automation systems. Meanwhile, the user association NAMUR also used OPC UA as the basis for the NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) concept last year and is working with vendors such as FieldComm Group (FCG) to implement the Process Automation Device Information Model (PA-DIM). And don’t forget that the OPC initiative was originally launched in the process industry.
This evolution is just the start of things to come. Back in November, the OPC Foundation extended its OPC UA to include time-sensitive networking (TSN) at field level. The field level communication (FLC) working group kick-off meeting happened on 8 January 2019, welcoming 90 people from 38 companies.
OPC Foundation’s vision of being the United Nations of automation is also coming to fruition. We are bringing together an exciting mix of automation, IT companies, chip manufacturers, integrators and end users and enabling market leaders to meet on neutral ground to discuss progress in three key areas: industrial interoperability; integrated security and data modelling.
Data modelling in particular will be key to a successful future. It offers the possibility to describe ‘things’ as devices, machines and services with their interfaces to interaction as well as their data and their meaning. Currently, about 50 industrial groups worldwide are working on these companion specifications, but many other groups are working on the ‘description of their things’. This is exactly what is needed for the ‘communication of things’ and the goal of plug and play standardised information. If every device, every machine and every service is uniformly described with OPC UA, then the OPC Foundation will become the world library of the description of things.
The real historical challenge of the OPC Foundation is therefore to harmonise companion specifications in order to avoid conflicts of information models. As a first step in this direction we are proud to be a part of the first World Interoperability Conference, which took part at Hannover Messe. This connected national organisations, international organisations and working groups developing industry specific OPC UA companion specifications.
Stefan Hoppe is president of the OPC Foundation
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