OPC's Red Hot Summer

Sept. 1, 2005
Deck: Thomas J. Burke, president and executive director of the OPC Foundation, discusses the end-user viewpoint of the OPC Foundation Unified Architecture (UA), unveils the rollout schedule for OPC UA and summarizes the deliverables of the new architecture. Key announcements include a "real hot" OPC enhanced certification program, the OPC Foundation Early Adopter program and the technology roadmap for 2006.

Welcome to the September 2005 edition of the "OPConnect" newsletter. The OPC Unified Architecture specification takes center stage in this issue, with development well underway for the past 18 months by a dedicated team of volunteers from a cross-section of the OPC vendor community. You’ll also find in this issue a number of best-practices application stories, where you’ll learn how OPC users, ranging from a Tier One automotive manufacturer to a press maker, are realizing the benefits inherent to OPC. But first, here’s a sneak peak at OPC UA.

OPC UA rollout

The OPC UA specification has been modeled after the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society’s ISA-95 specification organization, with respect to modularity. The foundation of the OPC Unified Architecture was released to the OPC Foundation membership this month. The foundation includes all the necessary base services to provide secure, reliable interoperability across platforms, leveraging Web Services and the collaborative efforts with other industry standards organizations.

In December 2005, the remaining parts of the OPC Unified Architecture—including the base services as required for alarms and events, data exchange and historical data access—will be released as a "release candidate" to the membership for final approval and ratification.

Part of the rollout plan of the OPC Unified Architecture includes jumpstarting the Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and the end-user community on the development and deployment of products and services for moving data/information from the factory floor to the enterprise. Many vendors in the Information Technology space are actively engaged in the development of OPC UA products and components that will allow enterprise-aware applications to truly operate on real-time information.

What's in it for you

The OPC Unified Architecture is about unifying functionality across the existing OPC Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM)-based specifications, providing a service-oriented architecture that facilitates interoperability across corporate firewalls and across platforms in a secure reliable fashion. End-users are excited about OPC taking charge and developing diagnostics and certification functionality directly into the base-level OPC Unified Architecture services.

Numerous ISVs are cooperating with the OPC Foundation to provide the necessary OPC UA wrappers/adapters for "plug-and-play" interoperability with existing OPC DCOM-based clients and servers, to enable unified architecture functionality. This will allow existing OPC products that are already deployed on the factory floor to take advantage of secure, reliable services—something end -users have been demanding for years.

There is much excitement over the ability to provide information from the control system to the IT space, allowing the enterprise applications to be more closely coupled with the data from the factory floor. The collaboration that OPC is doing with the information model standards groups—including ISA, MIMOSA (for machinery information standards), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the Open Applications Group standards for business software interoperability (OAGi), and the Electronic Device Description Language (EDDL) group—shows the cooperation end-users expect from standards organizations and vendors in general.

End-users are also very excited about raising the bar with respect to certifying and validating interoperability and leveraging collaboration with already successful industrial Ethernet organizations' certification programs.

A hot kickoff

The OPC Foundation kicked off the enhanced certification program in Aurora, Ohio, in July 2005. The program leverages the expertise of ascolab GmbH, an OPC Foundation certification company responsible for the development and maintenance of the certification self-testing tools, as well as leading ISVs, industrial Ethernet organizations and universities. My thanks to ascolab Director Matthias Damm, who attended the meeting despite his upcoming wedding in Germany, just two weeks later.

The meeting was "hot" for many reasons, not only because of discussions of hot controversial topics, but also due to a real fire at the meeting location. Thoughts were that Jim Luth, OPC Foundation technical director, somehow activated the fire alarm by opening a fire exit door. This coincidentally triggered the fire alarm at the same time a real fire was detected in the facility. Shown in the picture is part of the OPC Foundation certification gang, pointing to the alleged culprit, Jim Luth.

Roadmap for 2006

As part of a program to look at the brand and image of the OPC organization, the OPC Foundation is soliciting feedback from end-users and ISVs for their requirements and feature sets for secure reliable interoperability. OPC, in cooperation with ISA and the ARC Advisory Group, is developing an end-user team and corresponding surveys that will help the OPC Foundation and OPC vendors deliver the products and technology that the end-user community really needs.

We have some ideas with respect to traditional technology that needs to be incorporated into the OPC Unified Architecture, but are actively soliciting what functions are needed beyond traditional automation to allow end-users to integrate automation with the enterprise systems.

To see first hand these new developments, come visit the OPC Foundation booth, exhibiting at some major trade shows this fall, including the ISA Show in Chicago, October 2005, and the SPS Show in Nuremburg, Germany, this November. At the shows, OPC members will demonstrate the OPC Unified Architecture through the use of the OPC Foundation wrappers that are developed by the Early Adopter team. The focus of the demonstration is secure, reliable interoperability showing existing DCOM-based products and their "plug-and-play" interoperability into the OPC Unified Architecture framework.

Please visit the OPC Foundation Web site, www.opcfoundation.org, for more information on how OPC can benefit your organization.

Thomas J. Burke

OPC Foundation President & Executive Director

[email protected]