My Crystal Ball Has Some Spaghetti Sauce On It But It Still Works

Speghetti-On-My-Crystal-BallI’m in the great city of Bologna today. This is probably my favorite city in Italia. That’s probably shocking to people that have visited
Italy. Bologna not Rome? Not Florence? Not Venice? Have I lost my mind?

There’s very good reasons to like Bologna. For one, there’s
not a lot of Americans here. It’s not one of “THE” destinations in Italy. In
Rome, it’s hard to hear a language other than English especially in the summer
time. Secondly, the food is absolutely awesome. Bologna is in the plane of the
PO river, a great area for agriculture. Everything is fresh. And all delicious.
You can get Tagliatelle, Tortellini, Pasatelli and more. The only thing it’s
missing is the ocean. I’m as far away from water here as you can get in Italy.

One of reasons for me to come to Italy this week is to
attend the OPC UA Day – Italia. About 40 Italian companies showed up yesterday
to learn what UA is and how they can use it. Italy is a huge center for machine
builders and just like everyone else, they are under pressure to move data from
their machines to MES systems and other places. Claudio Fiorni, the R&D
Manager for Progea, is working hard to advance UA technology in Italy among these
machine builders.

The organizers did a good job detailing all the benefits of
UA including platform independence, scalability, security, a very advanced
mechanism for building data models and a lot more. They also announced a few
things I had never heard about, one of them being the capability to support
File Transfers. This new service is identical to FTP but doesn’t require you to
open an additional TCP port in the firewall.
Plus UA now will support HTTPS and you will be able to use that security
layer instead of the one embedded in UA. Very cool enhancements.

Another interesting piece of information was more details on
all the different protocols that are going to drop their transport mechanisms
to use the OPC UA transport mechanism. Working groups in a number of different
industries have examined the UA standards and have realized that they can keep
their current object model and use the more secure, more reliable, more
flexible transport layers that UA provides. Efforts are being made all over the
world to encode these proven data models in the UA format. I am not surprised
to see the great momentum for this and that it continues to grow.

My takeaways from all this? Here’s what I think:

– Protocols like Profinet IO,
EtherNet/IP and Modbus TCP will continue as
they are now. These are still the very best mechanisms from moving I/O data
from sensors into controllers. I don’t think any of that will change. RTA
products for moving data from
EtherNet/IP, Profinet IO and Modbus TCP
to controllers will continue to be
needed in many different industries.

– Things like BACnet for Building Automation, 61850 for Substation Automation
and other protocols for the Smart Grid are going to adopt OPC UA as I described
above. It’s an easy decision. Drop the inflexible part the use now, the
transport layers, and keep the part, the information model, that they really

Like it or not the factory floor is going to be an extension of the Enterprise
IT system. A small part of it will be use those control protocols but more and
more everything will be Ethernet enabled and communicate using OPC UA for
configuration and non-control data.

What we are going to see in this new world is for the PLCs
to evolve into Service points. They will increasingly be called upon by other
devices to execute services. Essentially they are going to morph into some kind
of IT device with some control functionality.
PLCs will be totally different in 5 years.

eXtensible Markup
Language (XML) – The important of XML is growing day by day. The
information models for things like BACnet, 61850 and the Gas and Oil models
will be discoverable and available as XML schemas. XML is going to become one
of the most important factory floor technologies in the next few years.

There’s a lot more to say but there’s a bottle of Vino Rosso
and Passatelli in Brodo waiting for me.