OPC UA Scores Big at Hannover Fair

May 1, 2006
Thomas J. Burke, president and executive director of the OPC Foundation, reports on the OPC events held during the recent Hannover Fair in Germany. Demonstrations and forums solidify OPC UA’s success as the key integration technology for legacy control devices and systems.

Welcome to the May 2006 edition of OPConnect, the official newsletter of the OPC Foundation. Last month had many watershed moments for the new OPC Unified Architecture technology, and I’m thrilled to provide a first-hand account of these successes.

One of the hot topics at the recent Hannover Fair, held the week of April 24 in Hannover, Germany, was the OPC Foundation’s support for the Electronic Device Description Language (EDDL) effort. This collaborative partnership of the Fieldbus Foundation (FF), Hart Communication Foundation (HCF), the Profibus Nutzerorganisation (PNO) and OPC is defining the future of industrial communications.

Transparent backward compatibility

What’s important about this effort? One of the key issues facing end-users today is how to take legacy equipment—devices, controllers, networks—and integrate them into their businesses’ enterprise and asset management systems. In a “Question & Answer” session during an EDDL panel held on April 25 at Hannover Fair, representatives from FF, Hart, Profibus and OPC addressed end-user concerns on how to achieve “transparent backward compatibility.”

Industry has acknowledged EDDL as a stable and consistent means for legacy devices to communicate in disparate systems. What OPC UA brings to the party is the capability for devices—from simple to complex—to be configured by a platform-independent user interface with a common look-and-feel.

Legacy devices are defined with text-based files for functions such as diagnostics, configuration and calibration. OPC UA allows the legacy devices to be defined and viewed through a Windows environment—similar to plugging a digital camera into a personal computer to access graphic files. And it does this without affecting the reliability and integrity of the legacy system—a key user requirement—because no custom software or drivers need to be added to the system to make it work.

EDDL demonstration

This concept was demonstrated on April 26, in German and English simulcasts, to Hannover Fair attendees from automotive, pharmaceutical and processing industries. A multi-vendor demonstration, supported by FF, Hart, Profibus and OPC, and with devices from Emerson Process Management and Siemens, showed how EDDL and OPC UA work together for legacy integration. Flowmeters, transmitters and valves were configured and diagnosed across a variety of hosts, including a Unix front-end computer, Windows PCs and hand-held devices. The demonstration proved the scalability of OPC UA with EDDL, by integrating information from simple devices and hand-helds, up to the Manufacturing Execution System (MES).

Users who attended these events left with two take-aways. First, OPC UA can be applied for both host-to-device and for device-to-device integration. Second, the next step will be to access information across multiple fieldbus networks—using Ethernet implementations—for direct information exchange among multiple vendors’ controllers.

I’d encourage you to attend one of our upcoming Training Seminars to learn more about these technologies first hand. To register for an event at a city near you, visit http://www.opcfoundation.org/Events/Events.aspx?CN=COM&CI=495. I look forward to seeing you there.

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