Welcome! It is an honor and I am happy to send you my first “President’s Welcome” greeting! We all are pleased to announce that OPC UA is omnipresent in articles, industry fairs, manufacturer events, conference contributions, social media, and more. OPC UA is rightly being called the key or enabler for Industrie 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the various initiatives from the USA (IIC), China (Made in China 2025), Korea (Manufacturing Industry Innovation 3.0), Japan (Industrial Value Chain Initiative) and others.
OPA-Forum: O-PAS Selects OPC UA
Especially due in part to the momentum of Industrie 4.0, some perceive that OPC UA, in combination with the various information models of the VDMA, “only” offers solutions tailored to the discrete manufacturing industry. This is a one-dimensional perception: The OPC Foundation is very proud that the Open Process Automation (OPA) Forum in the USA has released their first O-PAS specification with OPC UA set for its communications! Learn more: https://www.opengroup.org/open-group-open-process-automation-forum-launches-o-pas-standard-1. Also, the user association NAMUR for process automation, which focuses on Europe and China, also set OPC UA as the required basis for the NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) concept last year. It is also working with vendors from the FieldComm Group (FCG) to implement the Process Automation Device Information Model (PA-DIM). Lest we forget, the OPC initiative was originally launched in the process industry!
Future: OPC UA over APL
In the future, the newly-founded initiative Field Level Communications (FLC), (now under the roof of OPC Foundation) will also provide many drivers for the process industry: The focus there will not be on Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) for determinism and motion control (as in factory automation) – but I am sure that a uniform, modern end-to-end secured communication standard of OPC UA over Advanced Physical Layer (APL) will be a solution in the future -even if it takes a few years.
OPC Foundation: The United Nations of Automation
After the foundation of the FLC Group in November, the first FLC working group began with a kick-off meeting of 90 people from 38 companies on January 8th. The plans for the milestones are currently being developed. The preparations for the hiring of a full-time FLC Director are in progress with the goal of an extended status report to be presented by the new FLC Director at the OPC press conference at the Hannover Messe on April 2nd.
The OPC Foundation has managed to bring together an exciting mix of automation, IT companies, chip manufacturers, integrators and end users. The OPC Foundation, a non-profit organization, acts as “The United Nations of Automation” where market leaders meet on neutral ground and act in 3 areas:
- “Industrial Interoperability”: With open source and open specifications, OPC UA offers a modular framework for industry-independent communication from sensors to IT and cloud. OPC UA is stable since its first release in 2008 but will probably never be “fully specified” because the tools for industrial interoperability are always extended with additional components based on real requirements. The IT and OT worlds behave differently: While IT has always been a service-oriented-architecture (SOA), automation at the lowest I/O level run cyclicly on a Publish/Subscribe (PubSub) architecture. OPC UA offers both! It began with SOA, and was extended to PubSub in Feb 2018. In other words, the OPC UA architecture is extensible – and so it’s a natural evolution make use of technologies (e.g. TSN or 5G) to deliver deterministic behavior where it’s required. Other extensions will follow.
- “Integrated security” was prioritized at the very outset of the specification as a key requirement for a networked world. Device and machine vendors remain the masters of their data and can precisely configure access rights. This “Security by Design” has been validated several times by international security experts – a process which guarantees quick reaction and ongoing improvements.
- “Data Modeling” offers the possibility for “things”, such as devices, machines, and services to describe their interactions and data and its meaning, via their interfaces. Currently, around 50+ industrial groups worldwide are working on such “companion specifications”, such as the key partners “VDMA” for factory automation and the FieldComm Group or NAMUR and FDT for the process industry – but also many other groups like OPEN-SCS for the Pharma Industry or AIM for AutoID devices.
A complete overview is available here: https://opcfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Overview-UA-InformationModels.pdf.
Looking Towards the Future
These “descriptions of things” are exactly what is needed as a basis for the Industrial Internet of Things and the “communication of things”. The goal is complete plug&play capability of standardized information which is then securely exchanged with OPC UA mechanisms – from the sensor to the cloud and also horizontally. If every device, every machine, and every service is uniformly described with OPC UA, then the OPC Foundation is logically becoming the “world library of the description of things”.
The real historical challenge of the OPC Foundation is therefore to harmonize companion specifications in order to avoid conflicts of information models. This harmonization of information models has been published on the OPC UA roadmap: https://opcfoundation.org/about/opc-technologies/opc-ua/opcua-roadmap/.Activities are starting in this area soon.
As a first step in this direction we are proud to invite you to the inaugural “World Interoperability Conference” as a first step in this direction. It will be a platform for networking, getting to know each other, and talking to each other. As of this writing, 35(!) groups are actively participating and explaining their focus, results, and are available for networking. Get a ticket for Hannover Messe (free of charge!) and join the conference: https://opcfoundation.org/wic.
While we must not lose sight of the great goal of harmonizing information models, there are of course other challenges: the OPC Foundation must continue to create transparent structures for itself to grow and coordinate the large number of enthusiastic voluntary supporters from around the world in a targeted manner.
I am therefore looking forward to this exciting task and time together with you.
President, OPC Foundation