Enabling OPC communications in LabVIEW-based systems

Industry trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 are fueled by advanced distributed systems that not only feature the latest technologies but also require higher levels of interconnectedness.

This new breed of devices offers many features based on the variety of processing elements they incorporate. The combination of multicore processors, FPGAs, DSPs, GPUs, and other tools creates next-generation hardware architectures capable of addressing the needs of a wide range of control and monitoring applications.

Solutions such as National Instruments’ (NI) CompactRIO system feature architectures with real-time OSs and FPGAs for implementing high-speed I/O, closed-loop control, motion control, and machine vision on a single device. Because these kinds of devices proliferate in different application areas, their connectivity and interoperability are critical.

Tools for distributed systems need to be flexible enough to allow for efficient application development and integration with existing networked architectures. These devices incorporate different technologies, so development environments capable of targeting the whole system are essential.

NI’s LabVIEW is an example of an integrated development environment capable of seamlessly targeting advanced hardware architectures while providing control, analysis, and communication functions. As mentioned before, this last component of the equation is paramount to keep up with industry trends that prioritize the use of distributed systems.

OPC technologies are a step forward in meeting this interconnectivity challenge. Because of the capabilities and flexibility they offer, NI has integrated these technologies into LabVIEW software. LabVIEW features different options to connect to any OPC-enabled network via Classic OPC or OPC Unified Architecture (UA). This helps users communicate through the OPC networks to OPC-enabled programmable logic controllers (PLCs), data-logging historians, and SCADA systems.

NI OPC Servers serve as a bridge to convert proprietary industrial protocols to the open OPC Classic and OPC UA protocols. This conversion to OPC then enables LabVIEW to communicate with many different PLCs and third-party devices through the OPC Client included with the LabVIEW Datalogging and Supervisory Control (DSC) Module. The combination of NI OPC Servers and LabVIEW provides a single platform for delivering high-performance measurements and control to industrial systems.

In addition, when a user requires more customization, LabVIEW includes an OPC UA API as one of two different LabVIEW add-ons. For programming Windows-based targets, LabVIEW DSC features OPC UA capabilities. For NI real-time hardware targets, the LabVIEW Real-Time Module enables the OPC UA communication feature set. These capabilities allow users to create a customized OPC UA server application or OPC UA client application on both Windows and real-time OSs.

The combination of high-level design tools such as LabVIEW and widely accepted communication standards such as OPC offers the right set of tools to meet the challenges of advanced distributed systems. OPC UA improvements can help users overcome many of the barriers with Classic OPC and can help drive the adoption of this open industry standard in industrial automation as well as other application areas that require a standard, open and secure communication interface.