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FDT optimises sensor to cloud computing with OPC UA

13 September 2016

Suzanne Gill spoke to Glenn Schulz, managing director at FDT Group, to catch up on technology developments.

The FDT Group used the Hannover Fair this year to showcase the progress already made to integrate the OPC UA architecture into an FDT Frame using a demonstration of robust device-to-cloud data exchange featuring a display of asset health monitoring on a mobile device using the FDT2/OPC UA annex. The demonstration showed the standard integration of information provided by Device Type Managers (DTMs) into the OPC UA information model – an important capability for device diagnostics, configuration and remote asset management, as well for integration with Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES). The FDT2 / OPC UA information model will enhance the management of networks and devices, helping to optimise the enterprise by giving access to data without the need for protocol-specific handling and providing support for a wide range of devices which have not, previously, been supported.

Schulz explained that the FDT Group is in the final member review stage of an OPC UA annex to the FDT specification. Once approved, system suppliers with a FDT Frame Application embedded in their control systems, asset management systems, PLCs, etc, will have the ability to include an OPC UA server in their application which can be accessed from any OPC UA client application.
When viewed from an architectural perspective, the FDT Frame has access to all control networks in the facility as well as all supported devices attached to the networks. The FDT Frame also has knowledge of the complete control system topology. As a result, the OPC UA server in the FDT Frame allows any client application to browse the topology of the control architecture, select an individual device on any network in the topology, and obtain critical operational data about that device – such as its health, its current output value, its tag information, and a wealth of other information. The FDT Frame transparently and automatically handles the routing of traffic across all necessary networks so to the OPC UA client, it appears that the device is directly connected.
Any off the shelf OPC UA client with the right security privileges can access the OPC UA server embedded in the FDT Frame. With the advent of low cost OPC UA client development toolkits, bespoke OPC UA client applications can be built. An example would be an Android tablet application that acts like an OPC UA client but allows a maintenance technician to ascertain the operational status and health of an asset by interrogating the remote FDT Frame as he or she roams the facility. To the operator, it will appear as if the wireless tablet is connected directly to the asset in question.
Looking to the future
Looking to the future, Schulz believes that there is now a need to take the FDT standard to mobile devices to allow its use in the field. The creation of a mobile solution will, therefore, become part of the FDT Group’s strategic plan. 

“Another strategic issue is security on the wire,” continued Schulz. “The ODVA was the first to publish a true security overlay on their protocol and I believe that, given the current pace of IIoT and Industry 4.0, every network association will eventually need to come up with a security on the wire mechanism.”

“The growing need for secure networks will impose the need for new tools, issues and workflows on end user engineers. If a device goes down it will no longer simply be a matter of setting up the address and installing a new device. Because FDT is the standard that everyone wants to use to commission devices and maintain them so we do need to be part of this change. Security will, therefore, also feature highly on our future roadmap. 

“We will be ready to discuss further details about these new initiatives and others later in the year,” concluded Schulz.

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