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How & Why End-Users Should Deploy OPC UA from Beeond, Inc.

    OPC Unified Architecture (UA) is fast becoming the industrial standard for interoperability and communications between all industrial devices, equipment and systems – from sensor to the cloud. UA was designed intentionally to be an all-encompassing standard addressing all the deficiencies and limitation of prior communication technologies.

    The OPC Foundation is also collaborating with over 30 standards organizations to unify these standards. These organization are using the OPC UA Information Model to develop what is referred to as OPC UA Companion Specifications. UA Information Modeling, which goes beyond data modeling, is used to document, implement, reference any physical entity in the manufacturing environment including sensors, pumps, valves, PLCs, MES, packaging machines – anything.  Vendors who support these standards are now embedding the OPC UA and the related Companion Specifications into their systems and equipment.  With all this activity and momentum, many larger manufacturers have IIoT plans or are making plans to implement OPC UA.  But, many manufacturers have not yet taken a hard look at the standard or even attempted to justify deployment.

    Why Should End-Users Deploy OPC UA?

    End-users, including manufacturers, oil & gas, energy, and building automation are all in the early stages of deploying OPC UA.  But still many companies struggle to understand the business benefits and to justify the investment of transforming their current technology infrastructure to OPC UA.  There are very clear business benefits that result when End-users deploy OPC UA.

    Lower Total Cost of Technology Ownership

    In 2007, the OPC Foundation started down a path to create a data transfer standard for multi-vendor, multi-platform, secure and reliable interoperability in industrial automation. This massive effort over the last 11 years has produced the OPC Unified Architecture (UA) Specification. OPC UA, which enables IIoT in the manufacturing environment, enables information to be easily passed between sensors, machines, control systems and the cloud in a highly secure, flexible and open way with no custom integration code. The business value is frictionless information integration that lowers total cost of ownership.

    Best-In-Class Automation – Frictionless Integration

    Prior to OPC UA, unless a complete production line was purchased from a single vendor, a great deal of time and effort was spent on machine to machine integration and extracting machine status and metrics for MES and HMI supervisory systems as well as enterprise business systems. With OPC UA, when an OPC UA enabled production line is procured from different vendors, the integration effort is dramatically reduced.

    For example, the configuration of an HMI solution would require an engineer to define the Tags that needed to be accessed from each machines’ control system. The engineer was essentially building a portion of the system’s Information Model. With OPC UA, the HMI (an OPC UA Client) sends a request to each control system (an OPC UA Server) asking for their “Tags”, i.e. their Information Model. The Information Model is pre-defined for the machine and therefore a large part of the integration effort has been done.

    Prior to UA, once Tags are defined, then the custom code to integrate the various pieces of equipment into a seamless system had to written and debugged. Even more custom code had to be written to extract key metrics for history and supervisory control.

    When an OPC UA enabled production line with many very different best-in-class machines, e.g. washing, filling, capping, labeling, casing and palletizing, is deployed, they are easily integrated to each other, to supervisory systems, and to the cloud with little effort.

    Enables Multi-Vendor Best-In-Class Solution Deployment

    When OPC UA enabled equipment and systems are purchased, the integration effort is significantly reduced. As discussed above, the work of defining the Information Model has been done by your vendor.  And, with the Publish-Subscribe capabilities of UA, information movement between UA Servers (Publishers) and UA Clients (Subscribers) regardless of vendor is quick and easy.  These, among other key UA features, allows for best-in-class solution deployment with no penalty for integration.

    Protects against Cyber Attacks

    Cybercrime was one of the top news stories in 2017 with the estimated global cost set to reach $6T annually, a recent report announced.  Most of the big news stories have been about financial institutions, but the manufacturing sector is at the top of the list of most frequently hacked, second only to healthcare.

    Much of the current industrial infrastructure was installed, 10 to 20 years ago, when security was much less of an issue and the focus was on performance and safety. As new systems and technology are added to existing plants, a web of interconnecting networks and systems have proven difficult to manage and secure.

    Types of Cyber-Attacks

    Attacks typically involve hackers gaining access to plant systems and information through phishing technique that fool plant personnel into giving hackers their login credentials. Sophisticated malware has also found their way into the manufacturing environment slowing down systems and at times causing plant stoppages.  And it’s not only manufacturing, the energy grid has also been identified as a top target by most western countries.

    Intellectual Property Targeted

    In a recent 2016 Manufacturing Report from Sikich, twenty-one percent of manufacturers indicated they had suffered loss of intellectual property (IP) from cyber-attacks. The FBI estimates that $400B worth of IP leaves the U.S. each year. IP is not only stolen by hackers, but by internal threats. Disgruntled employees seeking revenge are not uncommon. Security must address access from both outside and inside threats.

    When companies are attacked, and sensitive IP is loss, their reputation, bottom line, stock market valuation, and competitive advantage can all be affected.

    OPC UA Security

    Security is a fundamental aspect of OPC UA. It consists of several individual elements that are integrated in different layers of the OPC UA Framework. For example, OPC UA uses a technology called X509 certificates for message signing and encryption. This is important and means that any messages passed between any UA Clients and UA Servers includes a signature that allows the Client/Server to verify the message as authentic and not from a rogue entity.

    Additionally, UA Clients and Servers employ asymmetric encryption methods which requires that Clients and Servers exchange public keys setting up a “trust” between the applications. Once, the applications “trust” each other, they create a secure communications channel to exchange messages that only they can decrypt.

    This is a very simplistic explanation of how OPC UA Security can protect your technology infrastructure from cyber-attacks and save you thousands if not millions of dollars annually.

    Improved Business Performance

    Eliminate Silos of Information

    OPC UA enables information exchange from sensors to the cloud.  Many of the existing legacy systems deployed in plants today use various proprietary protocols and have their own reporting solutions. These silos of information have created another obstacle for manufacturer to overcome if they want one consolidated view of their plant performance.  With an OPC UA enabled plant, Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) metrics and other operational metrics are easily retrieved and used by plant management to identify issues and act to improve plant performance. OPC UA will eliminate your information silos and unlock a key asset, your information, to be leveraged and used to improve the performance and efficiency of your operations.

    Secure Technology Infrastructure

    An OPC UA enabled technology infrastructure is secure, eliminating the loss of IP and the disruptions and slow-down of operations from cyber-attacks, allowing operations to run optimally.

    How Should End-Users Deploy OPC UA?

    Best Practice for Adoption of OPC UA

    As manufacturers and technology vendors put their IIoT and automation strategies in place, OPC UA should be a major component of their strategy. Because OPC UA is comprehensive and all encompassing, moving to an IIoT enabled automation strategy should address infrastructure, security, co-existence, migration and information models. Adopting OPC UA and an IIoT strategy can be overwhelming, but there is a practical, common sense approach to adoption.

    The 5-Step IIoT Adoption Process for End-Users

    The 5-Step IIoT Adoption Process for End-Users will help manufactures, and other industrial sectors, develop an IIoT plan from strategy to deployment. The 5-Steps are:

    1. IIoT Strategy: Define your IIoT goals, strategies and priorities. Also perform an assessment of your installed technology and identify your strategic vendor and their roadmap plans. The deliverable is a plan with prioritized requirements for moving your plant(s) and vendors toward IIoTusing OPC UA.
    2. IIoT Roadmap: Define an adoption roadmap that moves you to an IIoT-enabled plant where both legacy and new IIoT automation will coexist.
    3. OPC UA Training: Train your IT and engineering staff (and your vendors) on how to deploy, migrate and architect solution using OPC UA. And Train your developers and vendors on how to implement OPC UA and address infrastructure, information modeling, and security.
    4. Pilots & POCs: Define detailed project specifications and requirements that may include Proof-of-Concepts and Pilot projects.
    5. Deployment: Work with your vendors to understand your strategy and plans. Deploy equipment and systems that are IIoT/OPC UA enabled.
    OPC UA Technical Benefits OPC UA Business Benefits
    • Unifies All Protocols/Specifications
    • Platform Independence
    • Transport Protocol Independent
    • Scalable from Sensor to Cloud
    • Cloud and firewall friendly architectures
    • Secure Network Traffic
    • Communications Reliability
    • Comprehensive Unified Information Model
    • Enhanced Communications Performance
    • Lowers Total Cost of Technology Ownershipo  Lowers system integration, training & maintenance time & cost.
      • Lower infrastructure cost
      • Enables multi-vendor Best-In-Class solution deployment
    • Protects against Cyber attacks
      • Reduces likelihood of disruption of operations & loss of proprietary / sensitive information
    • Improved Business Performance
      • High reliability, enhanced communications improves plant performance and yields.
      • Secure, contextualized and aggregated plant information

    Stan Brubaker
    Beeond, Inc.