A friend of mine in Detroit told me a story recently about an engineer from one of the big three automotive companies that stopped at his trade show booth. My friend specializes in integrating people into manufacturing software processes. He asked this engineer how they ensure that their assembly people were correctly following the assembly processes. The astonishing answer was “Well, why wouldn’t they?” Hard to believe as anyone who knows other humans can attest that we don’t always do what we are supposed to do, when we are supposed to do it, and with the expected level of quality.
This is the reason that people who buy manufacturing devices look for some assurance that they are getting the level of quality that they expect. And, we all know, we can’t rely on the vendor’s word as to the quality of their product. Every vendor I know, for example, claims wonderful support, the simplest, easiest to use product in the world and space ship type reliability. All of us have been burned by these claims. We’ve had to overcome systems with user interfaces that we find indecipherable, support in time zones 12 hours different than ours and products that didn’t do what was claimed or failed in the first week of operation.
And that’s why ODVA, the OPC Foundation, Profibus International and other trade organizations demand that vendors using their technology pass a rigorous certification process. Vendors always test their product, but the quality of those tests vary. With smaller vendors, it may be the software developer that runs the tests. In larger companies, there may be a QC process with people assigned to rigorously test a product. But no matter which, the quality of these tests is generally not as thorough as that done by an outside organization dedicated to validating device operation.
An outside organization has access to lots of devices from many different manufacturers, assistance from the best technical experts and is continually evaluating and upgrading the kinds of tests they run. When you submit a device, like an OPC UA Server device, for testing at an OPC UA Foundation test facility, you are not only getting the most rigorous evaluation of your device, but you are getting an evaluation of how well it works with other devices in a sophisticated network. That’s more than you can do on your own unless you are a global megacorporation.
In the case of the OPC UA Foundation tests, there is a specific process that you must follow:
- Complete your internal testing and validate that your device performs as you expect it to perform. You should have completed both your functional and stress testing before submitting it for an OPC UA certification test.
- Use the online OPC Foundation Registration Wizard to register for your test.
- Receive the notice from the foundation regarding your test date and ship your device to the test site. You may wish to accompany your device but that is not required.
- Wait for the test to be conducted.
- Receive the list of errors, or, if you pass all tests, receive the Certification statement that your device is certified.
- You will also receive an x.509 certificate that can be stored in your device and made available to Client devices that request it.
EtherCAT and Profibus International (PI) also have similar processes for certifying devices. In all cases, it is an important step in making sure your EtherNet/IP, Profinet IO or EtherCAT devices are going to meet your customers’ requirements. And when a customer asks if you have a quality device, you won’t have to say “Why wouldn’t we build a quality device?”