OPC Day Europe Part of IT2Industry/Automatica

OPC Day Europe was held last month in Munich, Germany. It’s one of the annual events that I hate to miss. Each year it’s held in a different city and sponsored by one of the big automation companies. Last year we met in Paris; other years, we’ve had this event in in Finland and various cities in Germany.

It was a bit different this year in that it was held as part of IT2Industry, the international trade fair and open conference for intelligent, digitally networked working environments, part of Automatica, the eighth annual international trade fair for automation and mechatronics.

Pub-Sub Technology
Lots of OPC UA news at IT2Industry/Automatica. The addition of the Pub-Sub technology to the OPC UA standard is proceeding. Pub-Sub, it was explained, is a mechanism for an OPC UA Server to send data to many devices. It’s the OPC UA extension that lets it play in the IoT world. There was a demonstration of that technology in the OPC UA booth, but it is still clearly in development. I don’t believe it will be released until very late in 2017. Security for these messages is currently being discussed.

There is a significant marketing challenge and messaging issue with this technology. The original standard includes Publish-Subscribe functionality which on the surface seems to be in conflict with the Pub-Sub extension under development. The Publish-Subscribe is a one-to-one facility while Pub-Sub is one to many. That is a simplified explanation, though it will still cause no end of confusion among the customer base. And I am very worried about what happens when there are thousands of devices that support the original Publish-Subscribe in the market with thousands of new devices that support both. It’s going to be a problem for users to know what’s what.

Time Sensitive Networking
Another topic at the show that I found interesting was the TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) development being led by Kuka, the robot company. Kuka discussed the need for 20 microsecond response on OPC UA! Yes, that’s right, 20 usecs. They want to replace the communication with the end of arm devices that now use field busses with OPC UA. To do that, they need very fast communication. It’s very interesting technology, but again leaves an open question, “Is OPC UA becoming a fieldbus?”With this extension it competes not only directly with things like ProfiNet IO but with ProfiNet IRT. That can’t make trade groups like the PI (Profinet International) or the EtherCAT foundation happy. Another marketing headache for the OPC UA foundation?

Microsoft IIoT
Finally, the most interesting presentation of the day was the one from Microsoft. They have jumped into OPC UA with both feet. They have added it as part of the Azure cloud platform and added some kind of extension (I need to study this) to get OPC UA packets easily into the IOT hub. They also discussed how Windows 10 is fully equipped as an OPC UA Server device. You can now very easily build connected apps on any Windows 10 platform. That’s a huge advantage for OPC UA in the marketplace. I have no end of customers who build applications that sit on top of PLCs and need to pass information back and forth with PLCs. It just became massively easier to do that with OPC UA.

It was a great event in Munich, even though I had to endure a birthday celebration when Stefan Hoppe, executive vice-president, OPC Foundation, pointed it out during the conference. On my return, the customs agent asked me what I brought home. I was honest; 10 pounds of beer, sausage and German bread – all around my waistline.

Back to the real world of salad and hard boiled eggs – it’s how I am training for the 2017 OPC UA Europe event!