OPC UA: More than just a protocol

11 February 2019

In recent years, OPC UA has become a real ‘movement,’ that appears to be bringing industry together. There are currently around 50 industrial groups working on Companion specifications. The goal is for the creation of plug&play standardised information, which can then then exchanged via the OPC UA mechanism – optionally also with determinism at field level (but not into the public cloud).

Michael Schweiger (right) of Volkwagen with Stefan Hoppe, president of the OPC Foundation.
Michael Schweiger (right) of Volkwagen with Stefan Hoppe, president of the OPC Foundation.

There is still work to do to achieve this but the will and spirit for a common solution has become clear, and this will was obvious at the SPS/IPC/Drives 2018 event. 

The real challenge for the OPC Foundation, however, is in the harmonisation of information models in order to avoid conflicts of information models. It recognises this and its public roadmap reflects this need.

Moving towards the field 
In the past two years the use of OPC UA for communication right up to the field devices has been a topic of discussion and this has led to the foundation of the new initiative ‘Field Level Communication’ (FLC) under the umbrella of the OPC Foundation. The vision of the initiative is to work towards an open, uniform, secure and standards-based IIoT communication solution between sensors, actuators, controllers and the cloud that meets all the requirements of industrial automation – both in factory automation and process automation. 

Following a public call for participation, 23 globally active OPC Foundation member companies have jointly coordinated the requirements and roadmaps and have provided the necessary budget, in addition to the membership fees, for financing. 

Today, OPC UA is considered to be key when it comes to secure, standardised information exchange from the sensor to the cloud in the area of Industry 4.0 and related markets and this has resulted in more end-users joining the OPC Foundation. For example Samsung, Volkswagen and Miele – this allows them influence the direction of the specification and to ensure that sure technology delivers real value for their needs.  Commenting on this, Michael Schweiger, account & demand manager at Volkswagen, said: “With OPC UA at the heart of Industry 4.0, adopting the OPC UA technology and using it to its full potential in our factories is a natural progression. Being a member of the OPC Foundation guarantees early information to upcoming key technologies like the OPC UA Companion specifications which provide secured and standardised information and interfaces for assets.”

OPC UA has become more than just a protocol – it offers secure transport of data via diverse and expandable protocols. But who defines the meaning of the data? Associations such as AIM for the auto ID industry, VDMA technical groups for injection moulding machines, robotics or machine vision and 35 other VDMA industries already define their information in OPC UA servers in the form of OPC UA companion specifications. 

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