Real-World Applications Dominate at OPC Day Europe

June 4, 2012
At the second annual OPC Day Europe, held in May and hosted by Endress + Hauser at its Reinach, Switzerland, facility, a major theme of the day was real world applications of OPC UA. In his keynote address, OPC Foundation President Thomas Burke envisioned a future where “scalable, secure, reliable, multi-platform, multi-vendor interoperability” pervade automation. Multiple application presentations demonstrate how OPC UA enables visualization and control ranging from embedded solutions to those managing more than one million data points.

The second annual OPC Day Europe took place in May at the headquarters of Endress + Hauser in Reinach, Switzerland. OPC’s newest, and most important specification to date – OPC Unified Architecture, or OPC UA – took center-stage in a day-long series of presentations attended by 170 delegates and moderated by OPC Europe President Stefan Hoppe of Beckhoff.

The E+H Reinach facility is the “center of gravity” of the global E+H group, said Thomas Boeck, Marketing Director of E+H Process Solutions. Started in 1953 and making level gauges in a garage, the company is now a highly decentralized global operation with 89 independent offices and production facilities in most regions. “We want to be close to our customers,” explained Boeck.  “E+H is striving to be perceived as a measurement and automation solutions company, not just a company making field instruments.”

In a keynote address, OPC Foundation President and Executive Director Thomas Burke envisioned a future where “scalable, secure, reliable, multi-platform, multi-vendor interoperability” pervade automation, embracing other sectors too, such as building automation and energy.  “This is the OPC Foundation’s ambition with OPC UA,” he said: “Plug-and-play operations enabling end users to pick and choose devices and applications across the enterprise, all geared to making information available where and when it is needed.”  OPC was originally developed for field devices in process environments. Now, information integration from devices and applications, process and factory all the way up to the enterprise is the target.  This means collaboration with outside organizations and committees such as PLCopen, MES, BACnet, ISA-95 and ISA-88 are important, he said.  

Opening the main session, Consultant Paul Hunkar and Softing’s Juergen Lange overviewed OPC UA technology. One key message was that OPC UA is platform independent and supports not only Windows, but also UNIX, LINUX, VxWorks, Android and other embedded systems today. “OPC connectivity from Devices to the Cloud,” was how Lange described it.

A major theme of the day was real world applications.  Lange introduced three: in the first, OPC UA enables visualization and control on CAD and CNC systems at the Hundegger woodworking machine company. Elsewhere, Arburg injection molding machines utilize a VxWorks soft controller, with embedded and pre-configured OPC UA servers. Device and media redundancy are supported too.  Lange’s third OPC UA example concerned solar heating energy usage monitored over the internet from NTE Systems. Lange also hinted at OPC UA involvement in an application which he named “OPC Unlimited.”  Alas, no details could be revealed but Lange did say that OPC is integrated in a DCS encompassing earlier OPC variants as well as OPC UA, managing over one million data points!

Another OPC application was presented by OPC Foundation Board member Russ Agrusa, President of ICONICS, who introduced his customer, Dmitri Tchoubraev of the Swiss National Grid Control Centre. Tchoubraev explained the massive data transfers and processing needs of his organization and how OPC helps as a “universal bus.”   In effect, SwissGrid manages the largest power distribution community in the world, covering 24 countries and serving 500 million people. Requirements such as Day Ahead Congestion Forecasting involve collecting data from all countries and processing it through a variety of systems. OPC Classic, and now OPC UA, play big roles in supporting applications such as online data exchange, process visualization, process automation and workflows, data bridging, and secure data exchange.

More evidence of the multi-platform aspects of OPC UA was presented by OPC Europe President Stefan Hoppe with a talk on “OPC UA Embedded,” based on processor chips from the company ARM. He highlighted the multiple devices that use an ARM platform, ranging from simple small boards for sensor level use through gateway devices, embedded PLC and HMI, up to consumer devices such as tablets and smartphones. “ARM wanted to showcase the scalability of their chips in the Industrial Automation pyramid and with OPC UA we can connect all these devices,” he said. “Five different operating systems and 3 different coding languages – C, C# and Java – are involved.”  Hoppe also said that he was “excited about the commitment from Siemens to announce today in detail a new category embedded ‘field device’ with OPC UA integrated.”

A detailed presentation about the crucial topic of Security was delivered by ABB Corporate Research representative Dr. Wolfgang Mahnke and Dr. Ragnar Schierholz of ABB Technology. Their jointly-presented talk covered the security technology built into OPC UA and the broader aspects of industrial security. They explained the types of risks encountered in industrial environments, the methodologies appropriate to protecting against the risks, and how OPC UA can support the requirements. The main message coming from this talk was that OPC UA is an enabler for security, but that wider issues must be addressed too.

“This is the second annual OPC Day Europe organized by the OPC Europe team,” said Hoppe. “In 2011 we were hosted by SAP in Germany and for 2012 we thank Endress+Hauser for hosting us in Switzerland and showing how popular this has become as an OPC networking event. Delegates from 16 countries around Europe attended, including developers, consultants, product vendors and end users.”

Hoppe added: “Special congratulations go to ABB’s Mahnke and Schierholz as attendees voted their security-related presentation as the most popular of the day! And I am pleased to announce that we will hold our next OPC Day Europe 2013 at Yokogawa’s HQ in the Netherlands.”

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