03/03/2022 | Digital Innovation
Key drivers behind the progression of OPC UA technology are its global adoption as the open standard of choice for secure production-system interoperability across OT and IT networks, leveraging standardised data exchange. To this end, there are now more than 850 registered OPC Foundation members supporting a large, rapidly growing eco-system of end-users, standards bodies, and vendors.
OPC UA also uses a standardised method of defining, discovering, and using Information Models and services associated with the production systems. As a transport-agnostic, IEC standard, it is also supporting two different communication patterns and has the backing of a strong quality assurance program.
Stefan Hoppe, President of the OPC Foundation, has made no secret of his personal delight that OPC UA has emerged as he described in a recent statement as “the one solution harmonised for process and factory automation, scaling from field to cloud – and back”. With the endorsement by the likes of Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, IBM, Microsoft, SAP and Siemens, it is now the vision of the OPC Foundation to establish OPC UA as THE open standard of choice for data interoperability throughout the world of automation, in his words, “started and flourished with controllers and visualisation systems” that has now reached IT & the cloud, something that will inevitably lead to a further growth of an open eco-system, based on OPC UA. Here, he expands on that vision in an exclusive interview with ACHEMA Inspire Magazine.
ACHEMA Inspire: On a general note, we now have a market dominated by closed source, proprietary solutions. Just how important is it we move away from that?
The standards that we have within automation are like standards for code implementation, such as IEC1131-3 or the OPC UA as the communication interface standard which describes the capabilities for devices, machines but also software services and is also able to exchange standardised information within integrated security.
But when it comes to security, “open source” is particularly important. This creates the necessary trust through transparency – who would believe a black box and the promise “it is secure without a back channel?”. The OPC Foundation therefore offers an OPC UA sample code as open source, supported by well-known companies and used in their products. But the market also offers commercial solutions from toolkit manufacturers that deliver industrial quality.
ACHEMA Inspire: Your current project involves a collaboration with CESMII. It has been described as a “natural fit”. Apart from the fact you both bring a great deal in terms of expertise, can you explain why in particular?
The co-operation with CESMII is about creating an open library of information models that is freely accessible. People can upload new models or search for specific information models and download them. All this serves to create a “world library of information models” and thus helps to speed up engineering processes: One orders a product, such as the pump with the International Standard “OPC UA plus support pump modelling”, and before the pump is physically delivered to the site, the IT world can already start engineering: load the pump information model from the cloud library and implement the software in dashboards, time databases etc.
ACHEMA Inspire: On a wider level, you’ve been keen to stress this is not about the protocol but the data model, or “payload”. Can you elaborate?
ACHEMA Inspire: In conceptual terms, OPC UA Cloud Library is clearly a project with infinite possibilities. Is there a current vision – or do you see this evolving?
ACHEMA Inspire: And, if assuming the latter, how infinite are the possibilities?
ACHEMA Inspire: I see that none of this precludes the integration of existing assets like information models requiring translators. How important is that?
In short, avoiding any duplicate standardisations but referencing in existing models is the key. OPC UA modelling provides these possibilities to reference, for example. IEC Common Dictionaries or commercial solutions such as eClass.
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