Partnerships: Newest Interoperability Initiatives for Industrial Automation

Aug. 3, 2011
A quick look at the latest interoperability initiatives such as OPC UA and FDT 2.0, FDI and its implications for FDT, how OPC UA meshes with ODVA, PLCopen, and MTConnect.

While the last decade has been remarkable for the number of automation and control technologies introduced, another market force has produced an effect on the industry much more notable – collaboration among vendors and industry organizations.

The concept of being locked into brand loyalty where an end-user company would purchase all of its devices and applications from a single vendor and its direct partners as a means of guaranteeing that the applications and devices would work together in a seamless fashion has become completely archaic. However, it was commonplace not so long ago.

Of course, engineers could almost always make one device work with another, regardless of the manufacturer, given enough time and resources to do so. But how many engineers and their employing companies have ever had that luxury in abundance?

Driven largely by an end-user market inspired by the interoperability of consumer electronic devices and wanting the freedom to pick and choose its industrial devices in a similar manner, the automation industry has witnessed a flowering of collaboration over the past several years.

With its guiding purpose being the easy integration of disparate automation devices, the OPC Foundation has been at the center of much of this cooperation. Now the organization is focusing on expansion by partnering with other organizations that share the same vision around developing the best interoperability specifications.

What’s Happening … from a partnership perspective?
To push the interoperability potential even further, a number of new initiatives are building on the established collaborative groundwork to carry device integration to new levels through the work of independent technology organizations.

Among these new initiatives is the agreement between OPC and FDT Group to work on a joint project to provide off-the-shelf interoperability between FDT 2.0 and OPC Unified Architecture (UA).

FDT (Field Device Technology) supports the integration of data from devices associated with HART, Profibus and ProfiNet, Foundation Fieldbus, DeviceNet, Interbus and AS-Interface. As part of this project between FDT and OPC, the updated FDT 2.0 standard will be able to communicate data throughout an enterprise using OPC UA. In a similar manner, the FDI (Field Device Integration) standard is continuing to develop. This standard, like FDT, is based on enabling the interoperability of devices from different manufacturers. FDI differs in that it is being developed as a means of converging FDT, which has largely been used by vendors of devices targeted at the discrete manufacturing markets, with EDDL (Electronic Device Description Language) – an independent interoperability standard commonly used by vendors manufacturing devices for the process industries.

Illustrative of the cross-industry nature of the FDI project is the list of large automation companies involved, which include: ABB, Emerson, Endress+Hauser, Honeywell, Invensys, Rockwell Automation, Siemens, Smar and Yokogawa. With FDI’s wide reaching approach, it might be thought that FDI could eventually assume the roles currently handled by FDT and EDDL. Glenn Schulz, managing director of the FDT Group clarifies this by explaining how FDI’s role is to extend the capabilities of FDT.

“The marketplace has made it extraordinarily clear that pure process automation or factory automation architectures are becoming increasingly rare as manufacturers seek to leverage best in class devices and networks. Therefore, a primary agreement between FDT and the FDI architecture team is that the FDI Device Package, which describes the individual device through EDDL and a DTM (driver test manager)-like graphical user interface, will be able to be used directly on an FDT 2.0 host system,” Schulz says. “The converse, however, is not true. A native FDI host system will not be able to process a DTM, for example. For facilities that require support of both process and factory automation devices in their architecture, an FDT host system with a combination of FDI Device Packages and DTMs will offer the only available solution.”

Glenn Schulz, managing director of the FDT Group, explains how the FDT’s work with OPC supports a cloud computing strategy for manufacturers.

Another collaborative development recently announced connects OPC with ODVA’s Machinery Initiative. The idea behind this project is to bring interoperability to the machinery level much as it is being done at the device level through efforts like FDT, EDDL and FDI. The principal areas of focus on this initiative will be on issues identified by OEMs, such as machine optimization – which includes safety, energy and motion – as well as connectivity, information exchange, and device definition and configuration.

ODVA is building on its existing alliance with Sercos International (SI) around functional safety for the Machinery Initiative. OPC’s role will be in providing guidance to machine builders on designing equipment so that end users can more easily access data from the machine and correlate it with data from their disparate control, SCADA and MES systems.

Katherine Voss, ODVA Executive Director, explains the drivers behind the Machinery Initiative and what OEMs can expect from the initiative.

Other collaborative technology efforts involving the OPC include:
• The development of a common information model to connect OPC with the efforts of PLCOpen to create a vendor-independent information and communication architecture for a variety of technologies used to create automated products and systems. Work between these two groups led to the mapping of the IEC61131-3 software model to OPC UA. The combination of the work of these two groups allows engineers and facility management to view all the different platforms from different suppliers that are in operation at their plants so that all devices are commonly named and visualized.
• MTConnect seeks to standardize the connection between the myriad machines and systems in the manufacturing environment to better facilitate information flow for improved operations at the machine level, including energy use, process flow and toolpath validation. Looking to mimic the IT industry’s simplification of machine connection through standard interfaces such as USB, MTConnect seeks to connect machinery not through new hardware development, but through open communication standards for interoperability. To do this, MTConnect leverages XML to enable the exchange of semi-structured machine-readable data. OPC and MTConnect are cooperating to develop standards called MTConnectOpcUa, which is being designed to ensure interoperability and consistency between MTConnect specifications and OPC specifications, as well as the manufacture of devices, software or other products that implement those standards.

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