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Extending OPC UA to the field level ‘will end fieldbus wars’

06 November, 2018

The OPC Foundation has announced plans to extend vendor-independent end-to-end interoperability down to field-level devices such as sensors and actuators. This is part of a wider initiative aimed at delivering an open, cohesive approach to implementing OPC UA, including TSN (Time-Sensitive Networking) and associated application profiles, with the ultimate aim of creating a global industrial interoperability standard that integrates field devices with the shop floor.

The Foundation’s vision is to replace the many different fieldbus systems that currently exist, and to allow devices from different vendors to talk to each other from the field level up to the controller level, and on to the cloud. Because OPC UA over TSN is vendor-neutral, users will no longer have to deal with incompatible protocols or proprietary systems.

Adopting the OPC UA over TSN standard will allow them to benefit from multi-vendor, peer-to-peer communications and control between sensors, control devices, PLCs and distributed control systems, without needing costly and time-consuming software development, or cumbersome gateways and bridges.

The OPC Foundation has launched an initiative to identify OPC UA and related TSN-harmonisation needs, and to extend its standards and specifications. A new set of working groups will identify, manage and standardise OPC UA relevant topics focused on industrial automation, including:

•  harmonisation and standardisation of application profiles – for example, I/O, motion control, safety and system redundancy;

•  standardisation of OPC UA information models for field-level devices in both offline (for example, device description) and online (for example, diagnostics ) modes;

•  mapping of OPC UA application profiles related to real-time operations on Ethernet networks, including TSN; and

•  the definition of certification procedures.

The working groups will align their activities closely with the TSN Profile for Industrial Automation (TSN-IA-Profile) which will be standardised by the IEC/IEEE 60802 group. This will help to ensure that a single, converged TSN network approach is maintained so that OPC UA can share a common multi-vendor TSN network infrastructure, together with other applications. 

This initiative will integrate with existing joint working groups engaged in companion specifications, such as the description of machines.

New OPC Foundation president and executive director, Stefan Hoppe: growing OPC UA into new markets

“This initiative will grow OPC UA into new markets and I highly encourage all OPC Foundation members to contact the OPC Foundation to participate,” says Stefan Hoppe, recently been named as president and executive director of the OPC Foundation, succeeding Tom Burke, who has been with the organisation for 23 years. Burke will remain on the Board of Directors and will act as strategic marketing officer for the Foundation, continuing to campaign for the wider adoption of OPC UA.

“We are very excited about the initiative to extend OPC UA, including TSN, down to the field level, and the number of companies that want to actively participate in this initiative bringing the technology into real-world products,” says Burke. “This set of working groups will pave the way for the broadest, easiest, and fastest market adoption of OPC UA over TSN.”

The OPC Foundation develops and maintains OPC UA as an open and secure communication platform comprised of an information model framework, communication models and underlying protocol bindings. It works with other organisations on various OPC UA related topics, but continues to operate as a platform, technology, use case, and vendor-agnostic standardisation body.

•  One of the first reactions to the OPC Foundation’s announcement has come from ABB, which says it is committed to supporting the industry-wide adoption of OPC UA over TSN.

“ABB has long been a pioneer within the automation industry, developing leading-edge technologies to deliver solutions to some of industry’s greatest challenges,” says Peter Terwiesch, president of ABB’s Industrial Automation Division. “That we have taken a leading role in reaching this historic milestone for open standards and interoperability in industrial automation, which will see major dividends for both customers and suppliers alike, is further testament to our commitment, expertise and vision to unlock the full potential of Industry 4.0.”

“Customers across the industrial landscape will no longer be bound to suppliers based on the communications protocol used,” adds Bernhard Eschermann, the Division’s chief technology officer, who will take a seat on the OPC Foundation board in 2019. “Adoption of the new standard will open up cross-industry collaboration and encourage partnerships driven by what creates the most value for customers.”

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