OPC Foundation Showcases Industrial Digitalization Integrated Architecture at SPS 2022 – Automation.com

The OPC Foundation continues to prove it is the strongest and broadest open multivendor standards ecosystem for building integrated digital manufacturing businesses. 
In its presentations at SPS 2022, the Smart Production Solutions conference held in Nuremberg, Germany, in November, the OPC Foundation continued to prove it is the strongest and broadest open multivendor standards ecosystem for building integrated digital manufacturing businesses designed to achieve important goals including profitability, competitiveness, sustainability, and energy efficiency. 

OPC Foundation members are getting things done in positive and successful ways. Their efforts represent the antidote to an affliction I wrote about in 2017: compliance of the victim. In the automation industry, this affliction sees those unhappy with automation systems as they exist not taking action to help change the industry, setting themselves up for recurring frustrations, disappointments, and lost opportunities. OPC Foundation members are the opposite of victims. 

The more than 850 OPC Foundation members and thousands of OPC-compliant products from a wide variety of suppliers are applying OPC standards to simplify and increase system reliability by eliminating Level 2 and 3 software costs, complexity, and ongoing software maintenance. Broad support for OPC standards includes more than 65 joint working groups focused on defining and implementing standard contextual and semantic data models for industrial field devices, ranging from those for sensors and actuators to enterprise and cloud systems.
The OPC Foundation has created a unique industrial manufacturing ecosystem unifying and standardizing semantic information models for the entire manufacturing business, from sensors to enterprise systems and the cloud. This ecosystem is supported by a wide range of industrial members as well as technology leaders including Microsoft, SAP, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, IBM, CISCO and Intel. 

“We offer the world's largest ecosystem for interoperability and a neutral ground in automation,” said Stefan Hoppe, president of the OPC Foundation. 

In the area of information models, OPC Foundation released a total of 12 companion specifications in 2022 and launched five new groups. Hoppe highlighted the Power Consumption group, which is working on a new interface standard for capturing industrial energy consumption data based on OPC UA. Participants in the group include PNO, ODVA, and VDMA. 
OPC Foundation President Stefan Hoppe discussing how major cloud suppliers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, IBM, Microsoft Azure, Siemens MindSphere, and SAP support OPC UA over MQTT. 

Efficient industrial communications with cloud applications using OPC UA PubSub over MQTT is gaining wide acceptance since it simplifies and standardizes application engineering by using globally standard data models. Microsoft Azure and AWS both feature native OPC UA PubSub over MQTT as part of their architectures. The OPC UA standard data models ensure consistency and interoperability and are freely available from the UA Cloud Library, which was co-developed with the Clean Energy and Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CESMII).

The UA Cloud Library saw contributions from all major cloud vendors leveraging open interfaces and is available for sharing, finding, and collaborating on OPC UA Information Models. Today, the UA Cloud Library already contains over 65 OPC UA Information Models created by individual companies as well as international standards organizations like AutoID, DEXPI, MDIS, MTConnect, and over 30 VDMA working groups as part of their OPC UA Companion Specification work. The UA Cloud Library can be accessed from the OPC Foundation website. 

OPC UA IIoT Starter Kit provides samples and tutorials to develop applications using OPC UA PubSub and MQTT is available on GitHub.
Following the launch of the Field Level Communications (FLC) initiative at SPS 2018, FLC Director Peter Lutz announced the release of the specifications. “We chalk up the release of the first version of the UAFX specification and an extensive multi-vendor live demo as a great success. Through extensive prototyping, the specifications are already mature enough to directly realize products and perform conformance testing,” he said.

Hoppe acknowledged the work, pointing out that the OPC UA FX extensions close the gap of standardized horizontal controller-to-controller communication as a first step, and are already referenced by other organizations such as the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) as a technological basis. The OPAF is dedicated to the development of standards-based, open, security-oriented, interoperable process control architectures. The latest FLC release illustrates continuing OPC UA FX rapid progress to modernize the most basic industrial communications with mainstream computing data concepts to the industrial edge including sensors, actuators, and all from field devices. OPC UA FX is the first IP field device approach incorporating semantic contextual data connectivity. 

OPC UA FX is the first industry standard to achieve plug-and-play, multivendor, open-system interoperability, including controller-to-controller (C2C), and device-to-device (D2D) communications. There is also ongoing work on the OPC UA Safety Stack and extensions for C2D for safety. 

Regarding the advanced physical layer, OPC UA FX is supporting Ethernet advanced physical layer (APL) two-wire Ethernet for process automation and hazardous locations. This is based on IEEE and IEC standards with preparations for APL testing in OPCF Certification Lab. 

The UAFX Multi-Vendor Demonstration at SPS 2022.

At the SPS 2022 show in Nuremberg, the OPC Foundation demonstrated multivendor UA FX based interoperability using automation components from 20 manufacturers. These included ABB, Beckhoff, Bosch Rexroth, B&R, Emerson, Festo, Honeywell, Hirschmann/Belden, Huawei, Keba, Kuka, Mitsubishi, Moxa, Omron, Phoenix Contact, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Unified Automation, Wago, and Yokogawa. The demonstration showcased horizontal communication between third-party controllers, i.e., controller-to-controller (C2C) communications. Utilizing the UAFX extensions, the controllers share process data using UAFX Connections and PubSub mechanisms via UDP/IP over wired Ethernet, Ethernet TSN, and 5G wireless connections. 

Lutz said, “We are happy about the progress that our working groups have made over the last months. The publication of the first UAFX specification release and an impressive multivendor live demo are major achievements. The specifications are now mature so that real products can be implemented, and conformance tests can put into place.” 

Since the start of the Field Level Communications Initiative in November 2018, more than 320 experts from over 65 OPC Foundation member companies have contributed to generating the technical concepts and elaborating the specification contents for extending the OPC UA framework for field level communications, including determinism, motion, instrumentation and functional safety.

The technical working groups of the Field Level Communications Initiative are open to all OPC Foundation members. 
In step with the growing open-source movement, the OPC Foundation also launched the .NET User Group. This group was initiated by three companies represented on the OPC Foundation Board of Directors: ABB, Microsoft, and SAP. The group’s focus is to maintain and extend the existing open-source UA-.NET standard project, which is available on GitHub. All three companies use open-source software in their products in addition to proprietary commercial solutions. Each company is donating a full-time development resource to coordinate the future direction of the initiative, increase project quality, and implement new features. This ensures that important extensions to the standard, like ECC security, are integrated in a timely manner.  

The .NET User Group is helping all users, and the broader developer community, more quickly and easily implement OPC UA in their applications. The initiative is open to additional OPC Foundation members and the group encourages the public to continue their contributions to the open-source project. 

With the engagement of the new .NET User Group Initiative, there will be no change to the existing license of the UA-.NET code on GitHub: The dual license allows RCL for OPC Foundation corporate members and GPLv2 for others. RCL allows corporate members to use the code in their products without opening their own additional implementation. Interested parties can contact Martin Regen: [email protected]

Companies are leveraging the advantages of open source to save costs, get to market faster with new innovations, improve quality, collaborate and achieve economies of scale with lower capital and operating investment. Open source helps to accelerate innovation empowering people to quickly leverage open source code, while being able to get help and advice from the open source community. 
Included in the SPS 2022 presentation was discussion of the first whitepaper from the joint Industrial Ethernet Security Harmonization Group (IESHG), formed by the OPC Foundation, PI, ODVA and FieldComm Group. The IESHG meets on a regular basis to discuss security topics in the industrial automation context. The goal of the working group is the alignment of industrial ethernet security concepts, so that end users of the protocols have less complexity when using security in their automation systems.

The whitepaper was created to shed light on different topics of the security concepts of industrial automation environments. General concepts are explained, such as public-key infrastructures, the different certificate types of the SDOs, as well as certificate management tools. The document can be downloaded here.

The SPS 2023 conference will again be held in Nuremberg, Germany, from Nov. 14-16, 2023.

Bill Lydon brings more than 10 years of writing and editing expertise to Automation.com, plus more than 25 years of experience designing and applying technology in the automation and controls industry. Lydon started his career as a designer of computer-based machine tool controls; in other positions, he applied programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and process control technology. Working at a large company, Lydon served a two-year stint as part of a five-person task group, that designed a new generation building automation system including controllers, networking, and supervisory & control software. He also designed software for chiller and boiler plant optimization. Bill was product manager for a multimillion-dollar controls and automation product line and later cofounder and president of an industrial control software company. 
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