I’m writing this the day after the OPC DAY EUROPE 2012. This is an annual daylong event for all those companies and individuals that want to learn about new developments in OPC technology.
The meeting was pretty well attended. About 160 automation professional from all over Europe attended. There were four of us from the US. I was the only attendee from the US that was just there. The others were either on the OPC Foundation board or were displaying product in the showcase area.
The meeting was held at Endress+Hauser or at least was held at one of the many E+H facilities. E+H is a great story. Started some 50 or 60 some years ago by two guys making some sort of level sensor. They now have over 6000 associates as they call them. Interestingly, they’ve taken their 500 IT people (1 out of every 12) and focused most of them on customer problems.
This is interesting for a couple of reasons. One, I was astounded that they had 500 IT people. That seems like a lot. One IT person to support every 12 employees? Just seems like more than you would need.
But the other point is much more important. They are taking those people and making them customer focused. What E+H realizes is that their customers are faced with a lot of challenges. The control people have to know a lot about IT. The IT people are more and more concerned about the factory floor. Management wants more insight and integration of business systems and the factory floor. Technology is changing quickly.
E+H is responding by trying to service those customers in a more holistic way. They are not just going to sell them instrumentation. Instead, I think, that they plan to be much more involved in the planning and deploying of automation across the board for their customers. This is much like what Rockwell’s Security and Service organization seems to be doing.
I was stunned by the technology developments in OPC UA (unified architecture). From the low level systems all the way up to the Enterprise, the OPC Foundation and its members are working on providing an open, secure, reliable mechanism for all levels to communicate.
At the sensor level, Siemens announced a low voltage motor controller with OPC UA and Profinet IO. That’s important for a couple of reasons. One, that’s the use case that I have been describing for a year now. Profinet IO is the control network and OPC UA is the information network that is going to deliver electrical and energy data to an enterprise system. Many people have been confused about this but control is always going to be control. EtherNet/IP, Profinet IO, Modbus TCP, they all will do what they do today. But, in parallel you will need access to an information network that can deliver other types of information and meta data to analyzers and other systems.
I don’t have time to go into everything here but amazing progress is being made in the function blocks that will open up PLCs to OPC UA. Progress is also being made with Device Integration Models, Analytic Device integration models and transport layers and more. It’s stunning how much integration is going on.
And all these models are being developed in cooperation with other standards bodies. This is really important. Having standardized models that can be easily integrated into HMIs, databases, analytic devices and more is going to allow true plug and play integration. It is going to speed the integration of those device that support OPC UA and these models.
Europe is easily two years ahead of the US on all this stuff. I really think that Beckhoff, Wago, Siemens and others are a few steps of ahead of Rockwell on this stuff. The Factory Talk suite doesn’t compete very well against the ease of integration, the inherent security, open communications and breadth of options available to end users.