OPC End-User Advisory Council Takes Shape

By inviting user comments and complaints, the new Council aims to help ensure that the OPC open connectivity standard meets manufacturers’ needs.

Bill Cotter, chairman, Microsoft Manufacturer Users Group
Bill Cotter, chairman, Microsoft Manufacturer Users Group

Manufacturers who have problems with a particular vendor’s product using the OPC open connectivity standard now have a place to voice their complaints.

Working in conjunction with the OPC Foundation, which oversees the OPC standard, the Microsoft Manufacturer Users Group (MS-MUG), has agreed to take on the role of OPC End-User Advisory Council, says Bill Cotter, a senior systems specialist at 3M, in St. Paul, Minn., who is serving as this year’s MS-MUG chairman.

As part of its initial activity, the new Council is inviting manufacturing users of OPC products to submit comments through a special online users group, says Cotter. In some cases, these comments may be complaints about the OPC standard itself, or about specific vendors’ products that are billed as OPC-compatible, but which do not meet user expectations for robustness, reliability or interoperability.

Negative focus

“The first thing we want to do is collect the common complaints or issues that end-users have with OPC,” says Cotter. “I hate to focus on the negative, but that’s usually how you get things moving forward.” Once a “reasonable number” of comments have been collected, Cotter notes, then the Advisory Council will attempt to group the comments into common threads or themes that will provide guidance for future Council activities.

MS-MUG, which is a working group of the Open Modular Architecture Controls (OMAC) Users Group, voted to take on the OPC End-User Advisory Council role at its Feb. 4 meeting in Orlando, Fla. The MS-MUG meeting followed the annual ARC Forum, Feb 1-3, in Orlando, sponsored by ARC Advisory Group, Dedham, Mass., which included a panel discussion of OPC issues.

Cotter and several other OPC end-users participated in the ARC-sponsored panel, and some voiced some frustrations regarding their use of OPC. Herman Storey, representing Shell Global Solutions, for example, noted that robustness and redundancy levels of OPC products sometimes don’t live up to Shell expectations.

“We try to use OPC sometimes in mission-critical applications, and frankly, it’s fallen short there,” Storey told the ARC Forum audience, though he was quick to add that OPC “has been very successful in some other places where we didn’t try to push redundancy and robustness too hard.” Another frustration with OPC for Shell relates to vendor implementation of the standard, Storey added. Some vendors have implemented only “bits and parts of the standard,” he said, “and a lot of times, things don’t work the way you expect them to work.”

Pushing vendors

OPC Foundation President and Executive Director Tom Burke assured the ARC Forum audience that the organization plans to address user concerns, and that the OPC End-User Advisory Council is an important part of that effort. “My most important message to you is that OPC is dedicated to making sure that we’re meeting the needs of manufacturers, and that we’re end-user driven,” Burke said. The new Council is being formed, he added, “to help drive and push the vendors to build more reliable, secure, interoperable products.”

According to Cotter, the decision by MS-MUG to pick up the OPC Council reins is based on a common interest by its members. MS-MUG concerns itself with issues related to the use of Microsoft products on the factory floor, and most who have an interest in this topic also have an interest in OPC, he explains. For the initial stages at least, Cotter says he will serve as the chairman for the OPC End-User Advisory Council. MS-MUG will continue to act as the focus point for the OPC Council until it reaches the point at which it becomes too large, or otherwise dilutes the MS-MUG effort of working on Microsoft-related issues, he says.

Cotter says that users of OPC products may submit their comments through a special, online Yahoo group set up for that purpose. Users will first be required to join the Yahoo group, at the following Web site: http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/MMUG_OPC. They will then be able to submit comments regarding their OPC experiences. The comments will later be reviewed in an open meeting for anyone with an interest in the findings, and a summary will also be posted on the OPC group site, Cotter says.

The act of submitting comments will carry no obligations, Cotter stresses. Individuals will not be required to join the MS-MUG Users Group or the OPC End-User Advisory Council in order to partcipate in OPC information collection, he says. Manufacturing end users who do want to participate directly in MS-MUG or in the OPC End-User Advisory Council activities may sign up online to receive regular meeting notices and information, at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MMUG.

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