OPC UA Under the Radar

OPC UA® is still very under the radar for a lot of folks in the industrial automation world. It’s not like in Germany where Siemens is wholly committed to it. In the US, I find a mixture of apathy and reluctance to get involved in it.

It’s hard to work almost anywhere in the automation industry without knowing something about OPC, the predecessor to OPC UA®™. It’s been around forever and has been unarguably one of the most successful technologies to ever hit the factory floor. OPC Classic provided a standardized way to move data between two dissimilar systems as long as you are using Windows and Microsoft Technology.

OPC UA™ is the successor to OPC Classic and is the next generation of OPC technology. UA is a more secure, open reliable mechanism for transferring information between servers and clients. It provides more open transports, better security and a more complete information model than the original OPC Classic. UA provides a very flexible and adaptable mechanism for moving data between enterprise-type systems and the kinds of controls, monitoring devices and sensors that interact with real world data.

In Europe, OPC UA™, is the foundation of Industry 4.0 – the German effort to maintain Germany’s lead in manufacturing and Automation. Siemens is part of that effort and is equipping every new controller with OPC UA™ and many products with OPC UA™. They sort of stunned the automation world two years ago when they added OPC UA™ to Motor controllers and provided a mechanism where those controllers could report information like energy usage to an Enterprise application while continuing to respond to Profinet IO control messages.

The reason we haven’t seen the same deployment of OPC UA™ in the US is, I speculate, Rockwell Automation’s tepid support of OPC UA™ to date. In North America, the vast majority of automation engineers are comfortable and experienced with Allen-Bradley technology. Since their PLCs contain no support for OPC UA™, their close partners, Encompass partners and the wider community have seen no need to implement the technology.

But that may be changing. On October 9, Rockwell Automation is hosting an OPC UA™ event at the Rockwell Headquarters. This event is being sponsored jointly by the OPC UA™ Foundation and Rockwell Automation. If you can make it to the event, it will be very worthwhile. You can register here: https://opcfoundation.org/event-details/?ee=141.

Will Rockwell make some sort of announcement at the event? It’s possible. I would imagine they have pressure from key customers like General Motors, SAP and their partners that do business in Germany. Many of you know that I fully support OPC UA™, and think that it, along with deterministic Ethernet and extraordinarily fast Ethernet networks, will revolutionize factory automation. The smart guys and gals at Rockwell know that and I will not be surprised to see them commit to OPC UA™ support in their controllers at the October 9 event.

Following the event, our friends at Beeond are hosting a three-day development training on OPC UA™ at the Real Time Automation offices in Pewaukee, Wisc. That event, “Hands-on OPC UA™ Development Training for IIoT,” provides in-depth, developer focused training on OPC UA™ to help vendors and users create next generation industrial. Training is a key step in Beeond’s 5-Step Adoption Process. The 5-Steps are a common sense approach to adoption that enables businesses to reduce risk and realize value quickly and cost-effectively. Attendees will learn to apply the technical aspects of the standards by putting the specifications in context, with real examples using available stacks and APIs, commercial products, toolkits etc.

I would encourage everyone to attend both the OPC UA™ Foundation event at Rockwell and the Beeond event at RTA. I’ll be there and hope to see many of you in attendance.

Please stop by and say hello, and tell me why you think US manufacturing appears apathetic and reluctant to implement OPC UA™.