Embedded OPC UA: Enhanced Potential for Interoperability

The connectivity technology OPC UA embedded on a chip instead delivered via a PC server is redefining industrial automation architectures.

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The OPC Foundation (www.opcfoundation.org) has been working to help solve communication and connectivity problems between plant floor/factory floor devices and host systems and applications since 1995. Virtually every end user, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and automation supplier already employs “classic” OPC standards to establish communications and connectivity between disparate devices. However, no longer is connecting devices at the field, control and operations levels sufficient; today’s users also need to connect plant devices, applications and systems up to the enterprise level.

A new family of OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) specifications is now available to improve interoperability between all plant equipment and systems, and between the plant and enterprise, helping eliminate islands of information.

The OPC UA specifications integrate functionality from the existing OPC specifications (OPC DA, OPC A&E, OPC HDA) into a comprehensive service-oriented architecture. OPC UA adds essential new properties, including platform independence, scalability, high availability, new security mechanisms, and Web services. OPC UA has two dimensions: 1) to provide secure interoperability at the automation level by embedding the technology within plant-level devices and applications, and 2) to extend OPC communications from the device and automation levels up to enterprise applications and systems.

Several leading automation suppliers including Beckhoff Automation, Iconics, Invensys and Siemens have already implemented OPC UA functionality in their automation solutions.

OPC UA on a Chip
At ARC Advisory Group’s World Industry Forum in Orlando, Fla. earlier this year, Liam Power gave a presentation entitled, “OPC UA on a Chip: Redefining Automation Architecture.” As technical director at Embedded Labs, a software company based in Waterford, Ireland, Power cited examples of OPC UA applications embedded on a chip being used to provide connectivity for scheduling, control, visualization, logging, reporting and productivity applications.

Power described how OPC UA embedded in low-cost microchips will enable seamless communication from the field device level all the way up to manufacturing execution (MES) applications. He stated that OPC UA will soon be embedded throughout the automation system, predicting that, by the year 2020, less than one in 1,000 OPC UA servers sold will be as installable software for PCs, and that the installed base of embedded OPC UA devices will exceed 50 million units.

In his ARC forum presentation, Christian Schulze, business development manager for Beckhoff Automation, discussed how his company has incorporated embedded OPC UA into the architecture of its products.  According to Schulze, the company has embedded OPC UA into its Automation Controller series, which includes PLC, motion control and graphical user interface functionality. The embedded OPC UA client is already integrated with IEC61131-3 programming software function blocks.

Mitch Vaughn, chief technologist at the HMI Center of Competence for Siemens Industry in Richardson, Tex., presented how the company integrates its solutions using embedded OPC UA.  According to Vaughn, Siemens introduced its first OPC UA-based product in 2008. Today, one of its products has been certified as OPC UA-compliant, and 10 more are in the immediate pipeline.

John Krajewski, senior product manager of HMI/supervisory systems for Invensys Operations Management, Plano, Tex., discussed how embedded OPC UA will serve as a key enabler and one of the primary real-time system connectivity tools within the company’s InFusion enterprise control system, including the ArchestrA System Platform, ArchestrA Workflow, Trident safety instrumented systems, and SimSci-Esscor ROMeo plant optimization software.

Katherine Voss, executive director of the network organization ODVA in Ann Arbor, Mich., presented a vision shared with the OPC Foundation for machinery integration in the manufacturing sector. ODVA, a vendor member organization founded in 1995, has approximately 275 global vendor members. In March 2011, ODVA announced a machinery initiative in partnership with OPC Foundation and Sercos International to foster cross-collaboration on topics of mutual interest for machinery applications.

Craig Resnick, cresnick@arcweb.com, is vice president of consulting for the ARC Advisory Group in Dedham, Mass.

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