OPC UA continues to explode in Europe and Germany in particular. For those of you that haven’t been following along OPC UA is the enhancement (in actuality replacement) for the OPC that we’ve known and loved all these years.
OPC Classic, just like Classic Coke, is the version of OPC that we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. It’s done a fine job of connecting devices to PC applications. And it’s made companies like Kepware and Matrikon exceptionally successful. Selling the same software driver 10,000 times will do that.
But Classic reached the end of its natural life some time ago for a lot of good reasons. For one, it’s based on old, obsolete Microsoft technology; Microsoft COM and DCOM. That was fine it its day but is now superseded by SOAP and Web Services. And because it was Microsoft technology OPC was limited to Windows and lots of people, were really uncomfortable with Windows. Having a platform on your factory floor that changes every 18 months involved in a process that you expect to keep running for ten years just wasn’t viable. And there was a bunch of issues around limited data models, security and accessibility through the firewalls to the Enterprise side of the business.
I think that a lot of the resistance to OPC UA in the states is that Rockwell is not really promoting it. A majority of the market in the US follows the lead of Rockwell. They pay attention to what Rockwell is promoting, the products that Rockwell is selling and the architectures that they suggest are appropriate for today’s need to bring the Enterprise together with the factory floor.
Right now, Rockwell has a very limited solution for OPC UA. It really doesn’t fit the kind of architecture that they envision for the future so there is little being said about it. That means that their distributors are really unaware of what the OPC UA technology is and it’s the same with the customers of those distributors. I don’t blame any of those people. In this era of downsizing, everyone is doing three jobs, working longer hours than ever, not going to tradeshows, reading fewer and fewer magazines so it’s exceptionally hard for them to keep up on trends and new technologies. They rely on their key vendor to tell them what they need.
It’s not the same way in Europe. Over there Siemens is investing heavily in OPC UA. Their PLCs are coming equipped with OPC UA. Products like Motor Starters are coming equipped with OPC UA. They are making a big effort and it is sort of alarming.
It’s alarming because the European vendors are going to have a huge leg up on the American vendors when it comes to Enterprise / Factory Floor integration. In the US we have the EtherNet/IP people claiming that you can use EtherNet/IP. We have the Profinet IO people telling us we can use Profinet IO. That’s all nonsense. Those things are I/O protocols pure and simple. They will never be anything more than that. We have no good way of reliably and securely combining things like ERP systems, MES systems and other business systems with the data on the factory floor.
We’re losing ground here and I find it scary.
PS – If you’d like a copy of my OPC UA book hit the contact us at the top of our main page. We have about ten copies to give away.