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Consortium aims to speed progress on smart field devices

28 November, 2022

A group of automation, semiconductor and Web companies – including Schneider Electric, B&R Industrial Automation, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Analog Devices, Arm, Texas Instruments and Lattice Semiconductor – have come together to develop an open-source OPC UA over TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) stack that runs on the FreeRTOS open-source, real-time operating system for microcontrollers and microprocessors. They want to simplify and accelerate the development of efficient, smart and secure industrial field devices that comply with OPC UA FX (Field eXchange) and implement them across the manufacturing sector.

The organisations will work together to develop open-source software components, provide reference designs and starting guides on multiple silicon platforms and sensor-to-cloud IIoT applications.

“The goal,” says Abhishek Peechara, director of Schneider Electric’s Innovation & Technology division, “is to build a collaborative and open ecosystem to drive the adoption of OPC UA FX in the market. OPC UA FX will bring the much-needed openness, consistency and vertical integration across all of industrial automation, paving a path towards an adaptive and smart manufacturing.”

To date, OPC UA has only been supported on CPU-based controllers such as PLCs, industrial PCs, HMIs and Scada systems. These controllers can provide high-level services based on low-level data for machine representation and sensor/actuator information. However, they typically share only a fraction of the raw data available from the sensors and actuators because it is aggregated, omitted or only alarms are retained.

The new initiative will allow OPC UA and Ethernet TSN to run on computing- and memory-constrained devices such as microcontrollers and low-power FPGA-based SoC (system-on-chip) devices.

The quality of higher-level IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) services such as predictive maintenance, cloud-based analytics and digital twins depends on the quality of the raw data on which they are based. To deliver on the promise of smart manufacturing, process optimisation and adaptive systems, unadulterated raw data needs to be retrieved directly from the source.

The consortium argues that enabling OPC UA and TSN at the sensor and actuator level will ensure continuous insights and data flows without disturbing machine operations, while still applying zero-trust security principles. Combined with the real-time capabilities of TSN, this will create an IoT-capable fieldbus system.

Stefan Schönegger: a major step toward adaptive and self-learning manufacturing systems

“This initiative will be a fundamental accelerator for market adoption of OPC UA FX including TSN and with this making a major step toward adaptive and self-learning manufacturing systems”, predicts Stefan Schönegger, B&R’s global product group manager for controls.

FreeRTOS is a real-time operating system for microcontrollers and small microprocessors that was developed almost 20 years ago and is now managed by Amazon Web Services. It was designed to be small and simple, and is mostly written in the C programming language, making it easy to port and maintain. It is distributed freely under an MIT open-source licence and currently supports more than 40 controller architectures. The OS is downloaded once every 170 seconds.

“FreeRTOS’ scalability, reliability, wide processor architecture support, and permissive licensing makes it a natural fit for this project,” says Richard Barry, senior principal engineer at AWS.

Harry Forbes, an analyst with ARC Advisory Group, adds: “There is a crying need for high-quality, open-source implementations of OPC UA. This collaboration is targeting resource-constrained devices. Related open-source projects like Open62541 are more applicable to industrial PCs and servers. I would encourage all automation suppliers to contribute to both of these projects and to work collaboratively to upstream the features they need. That will enhance the value and the interoperability of their future products, while leveraging the work of others.”




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