12/03/2021 |

Interview with Stefan Hoppe | OPC Foundation

OPC UA is presented as an enabler for transformation from the Automation Pyramid to the Information Network. OPC Foundation President Stefan Hoppe discusses what that means.

The OPC Foundation is exhibiting at ACHEMA for the first time because of the relevance and importance of OPC UA technology. But wait: “Data is the new currency” and “Protocols will play a subordinate role in the future” - right? So why does OPC UA play a key role in digital transformation?

ACHEMA Inspire: If OPC UA is not a protocol – what is it instead?

  • __Stefan Hoppe: OPC Unified Architecture, “OPC UA”, is much more than just an operating system-independent, neutral platform for data communication. OPC UA is the “Lego” building block for standardising data and interfaces and exchanging them securely in a way that scales from the sensor to the cloud (and back) - device discovery and onboarding, and it's an IEC62541 standard.

ACHEMA Inspire: Is there one existing protocol to use from field to cloud?

  • __Stefan Hoppe: There is no “one” protocol for this. There are numerous, traditional fieldbuses that have excellent deterministic Quality of Service, yet they do not scale to the cloud. MQTT is in the cloud but does not scale down to the field level with the required features that are needed in factory and process automation. Conveniently, OPC UA has all of these mechanisms built-in, scaling from the field to the cloud, including end-to-end security over different chained transports, as an IEC standard, protecting users from vendor lock-in and partnering to standardise the information. It will be one of the biggest influencing technologies for digital transformation over several decades. A compelling revelation!

ACHEMA Inspire: Since 2018, work has been under way on the OPC UA FX (Field eXchange) Specification Extension. Is this more than an extension of OPC UA for TSN and when will we see something?

  • __Stefan Hoppe: In 2018, the Field-Level Initiative (FLC) was launched along with initially, 27 companies, including the one of the world’s largest automation manufacturers. Currently, a total of over 320 experts from more than 65 companies are working to develop concepts and specifications. They all share the common goal of extending the scope of OPC UA to the field level and establishing OPC UA as the unified and universal communication standard in factory and process automation. The harmonisation of requirements from process and factory automation will lead to common device services - the first live demos will be shown at the SPS trade fair in November this year.
    I like to add, that OPC UA is often seen as the de-facto standard for only the last mile of PLC controllers and devices. There is far more to appreciate when looking at the scalability from the field via OPC UA over MQTT to the cloud (and back) or the connection to the Asset Administration Shell. OPC Foundation loves MQTT for its excellent capability for data transfer - therefore, its use is encouraged. But OPC UA maps many more services above the transport layer which are key and relevant for the OT world - and these are also usable via other transport protocols.

ACHEMA Inspire: What is the meaning of Ethernet-APL - and why has the OPC Foundation joined here?

  • __Stefan Hoppe: We have now joined the Ethernet-APL initiative as this technology is the solution for scaling from the edge to the field level. Established fieldbus protocols such as ProfiNET, EthernetIP and HART-IP will run over this network, as will the information technology OPC UA, which is the only solution that also scales to the cloud. The clear prognosis: In process automation, “OPC UA over APL/SPE” will establish itself as the successor to the current de-facto HART standard and will gradually be installed as a new solution - first for the “North Port” for 2nd channel diagnostics; and then for the “South Port as a data channel”.

ACHEMA Inspire: Standardising data sounds not that complicated – who are your partners you are co-operating with?

  • __Stefan Hoppe: Yes, transferring standardised data sounds so logical. But who sets these standards? The cloud providers - only to create a new “cloud vendor lock-in” in the process? Here, too, caution is called for. The OPC Foundation is currently co-operating in more than 65 initiatives with other organisations – and here’s the reason: Only by combining OPC UA data-transport security technology (the “how”) with the standardised data models of the partners (the “what”) do you get the promise of “secure industrial interoperability”.

ACHEMA Inspire: Why does openness have such a high value for your organisation and how do you organise this?

  • __Stefan Hoppe: The OPC Foundation could be seen as the “United Nations of automation”, in the best sense of the word. Each company, large or small, has only one vote. The members not only protect each other, but also the non-OPC members who implement or simply use OPC UA. Openness is one of the most important goals. Open specifications, open source, and an OPC lab that is also open to non-paying OPC members - what other organisation provides that?

| Original version published in ACHEMA Inspire, June 2021. |

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ACHEMA Inspire staff

World Show Media

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