In 2017, the OPC Foundation released several key developments including a new Publish/Subscribe model, founded new subsidiaries such as OPC Korea, and opened new certification labs. In 2018, the company will continue to drive forward the adoption and adaption of the global interoperability standard for Industry 4.0 and the IIoT with new publications, new companion specifications, and new high-profile partnerships such as Huawei and Samsung.
Stefan Hoppe, Global Vice President, OPC Foundation, in an interview with RFID & Wireless IoT Global
Mr. Hoppe, more and more end user companies are joining the OPC Foundation. How important are their contributions to the continued development of OPC UA?
The OPC Foundation is happy to see more and more end users become members – Samsung, LG, Miele, and Volkswagen, to name just a few. These companies have understood the advantages of OPC UA within their production processes and in interaction with their IT systems. Now, they are increasing the pressure on suppliers to adopt OPC UA. We are publicising the fact that international companies like Samsung and Miele are joining in order to send a signal to international markets.
How can their feedback be incorporated into the continued development of OPC UA?
End users do not only demand OPC UA-ready machinery and devices – in addition to the quality guaranteed by OPC UA, they require simplified engineering through standardised information models. A good example of this are the tobacco companies Philip Morris International, British Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, and Japan Tobacco International: They all joined the OPC Foundation as end users in order to cooperate with the Foundation and with suppliers on a Tobacco Companion Specification – a common, standardised semantic framework.
Speaking of new developments, what are the next milestones for OPC UA after the release of OPC UA Publish/Subscribe?
After releasing a new specification, our focus turns to its adoption and utilisation. OPC UA Pub/Sub will now be integrated into all toolkits, followed by individual products. Various companies have actively contributed to the prototyping group. These companies will quickly bring their quality-tested products to the market. In my view, the next big milestone will be the OPC UA over TSN technology – but also the consideration of the 5G transport layer and other technologies into the OPC UA stack.
How far has the development of OPC UA over Time Sensitive Networks (TSN) progressed?
TSN technology allows tunnelling of all protocols in order to enable real-time capabilities. The biggest challenge, however, is not transferring the new OPC UA Pub/Sub via TSN. There is not yet a final specification on how to connect a network of TSN nodes by different suppliers in order to tunnel a data connection between two endpoints, regardless of the protocol used.
It will take a few years before we will see it on the factory floor. Today's demos are all hard-coded and cannot be flexibly expanded. TSN will take some time, but the OPC Foundation and over 85 of its member companies are actively working on this challenge.
In practice, can an entire Smart Factory be realised on the basis of OPC UA? Are there enough devices to accommodate all the individual requirements of manufacturers?
The number of devices, actuators, and sensors is steadily increasing. For the last two years, the SAP booth at Hanover Messe has demonstrated the range of OPC UA. Robots, transport systems, AutoID devices, vision systems, scales, industrial printers, and more are available with OPC UA as a standard. Today, almost all SPS, SCADA, and MES providers offer OPC UA.
For end users, what are the deciding factors in implementing OPC UA – easier communication, cost reduction, or faster processes?
Of course, cost reduction considerations always play a role in companies' decisions. OPC UA can facilitate cost reduction by minimizing engineering efforts, for example. But an under-reported benefit of OPC UA is the increased level of security. This additional security is of critical importance in our connected world. OPC UA comes with a wealth of security mechanisms.
Providers and end users have to be made aware of these features. The best security mechanisms are worthless if they are not used. This is why we recently published guidelines for the secure use of OPC UA in industry applications.
The OPC and CLPA recently announced development of a new companion specification for “CSP+ for Machines”. How many different companion specifications are there today?
The OPC Foundation and its partners have already launched 27 companion specifications. In addition, numerous solutions have been developed without the support of the OPC Foundation. Membership is not necessary to use or develop OPC UA technology. Various vertical markets, such as the mining industry, have struck out on their own and created solutions tailored to their specific markets.
How many more companion specifications will there be in the future?
Countless! The Association of German Mechanical Engineering Companies (VDMA) alone is working on 15 companion specifications for discrete manufacturing at this time. The real key to the digital transformation lies in information models – the semantic description of all the “Things” making up the IoT and their behaviour.
Are the companion specifications independent of each other or interdependent?
Harmonizing different, cross-vertical information models is the pinnacle of integration. Robots, as well as any other machines such as injection moulding machines, possess an MES interface – and these interfaces should be as harmonized as possible. The VDMA, for example, has understood this challenge and is working diligently and tirelessly on coordinating and synchronizing of these cross-vertical interfaces.
In 2017, the OPC Foundation increased its global activities. Yet OPC UA adoption is still most widespread in Europe. Why is this?
50 percent of all OPC Foundation members are European companies. In Europe, there is an emphasis on embedded technology know-how, but also a culture of cooperation between all market participants. The geography also favours direct contact between companies. Europe will continue to lead in OPC UA adoption, but my gut feeling is that Asia might overtake the US in the next two years.
What is the adoption rate of OPC UA right now – and what are the goals for 2018?
Our goal is to become the universally accepted Industry 4.0 and IIoT standard by the end of 2019. Three years ago, this goal was sometimes met with derision. Today, no informed market participant doubts the feasibility of this goal. I think we will more than reach it.
Which new activities does the OPC Foundation plan for 2018?
Depending on the continent and country, we deploy different concepts according to the degree of OPC UA adoption: webinars, conferences, whitepapers, trade fairs, and media partnerships. In the US, for example, we work on raising awareness and explaining OPC UA technology itself. In Europe and Asia, this is no longer necessary. There, the main topics are information modelling and its adoption.
In 2018, the OPC Foundation, together with new member companies like Huawei and Samsung, will particularly focus on raising the standard’s profile in Asia.