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OPC Foundation’s Field Level Communications Initiative Reaches Milestone

Milestone and Premiere Celebration for OPC as 20 Companies Showcase Cross-Vendor Interoperability of OPC UA FX Specifications with the First Live Multi-Vendor Demo

Three years after its launch, the OPC Foundation's Field Level Communications (FLC) initiative has completed the second release candidate of the OPC UA FX (Field eXchange) specifications and has started the review and release process for them. In addition, a multi-vendor demo with controllers and network infrastructure components of 20 companies - among them the world’s largest automation suppliers – has been realized to showcase the cross-vendor interoperability of automation components for the most diverse use cases in Factory and Process Automation.

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OPC Foundation (OPCF) has announced that its Field Level Communications Initiative has accomplished a significant milestone in the ongoing project by completing and publishing the second OPC UA FX specification release candidate that will become the first public available specification after conducting OPCF-wide membership review.

The release candidate of the Field Level Communications Initiative consists of four specification parts (Parts 80-83) and focuses on communication between automation components to exchange process data and configuration data using OPC UA Client/Server and PubSub extensions in combination with peer-to-peer connections and basic diagnostics:

  • Part 80 (OPC 10000-80) provides an overview and introduces the basic concepts of using OPC UA for field level communications.
  • Part 81 (OPC 10000-81) specifies the base information model and the communication concepts to meet the various use cases and requirements of Factory and Process Automation.
  • Part 82 (OPC 10000-82) describes networking services, such as topology discovery and time synchronization.
  • Part 83 (OPC 10000-83) describes the data structures for sharing information required for Offline Engineering using descriptors and descriptor packages.

For this year's SPS in Nuremberg, a multi-vendor interoperability demo has been implemented, combining components from a total of 20 manufacturers - among them the world’s largest automation suppliers - to enable cross-vendor data exchange via OPC UA and the extensions for the field level, OPC UA FX (Field eXchange).

The focus of the interoperability demo is on horizontal communication between automation components, i.e. controller-to-controller (C2C( communication. With the UAFX extensions, the controllers are able to exchange process data with other controllers using UAFX Connections and PubSub mechanisms. In the demo itself, process data is exchanged via UDP/IP using wired Ethernet or Ethernet TSN, as well as in combination with a 5G wireless connection.

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In the demo, the controllers act as UAFX Publisher and/or UAFX Subscriber, which exchange data via UAFX Connections. The controllers are configured and interconnected via so-called UAFX Connection Managers, which are either integrated into the controller or implemented as an external software component.

The Connection Managers used were implemented by Siemens and Unified Automation. All controllers are monitored in real time via a central dashboard which visualizes the respective status, selected process data and other information from the UAFX asset information model of the automation components.

Participants in the demo are the manufacturers: ABB, Beckhoff, Bosch Rexroth, B&R, Emerson, Festo, Honeywell, Hirschmann/Belden, Huawei, Kuka, Mitsubishi, Moxa, Omron, Phoenix Contact, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Unified Automation, Wago and Yokogawa.

Two additional demos were implemented to highlight two highly relevant aspects for field level communications: Firstly, a multi-vendor demo demonstrating deterministic transport in a converged network based on OPC UA over TSN using the UAFX extensions with a direct Layer 2 mapping to optimize the efficiency for high-performance real-time applications. Secondly, the prototype of a Safety Testing Tool which will be used for development-accompanying testing and certification of OPC UA Safety devices based on the new OPC UA Safety Specification which is now also supporting PubSub and UAFX.

Peter Lutz, Director Field Level Communications of the OPC Foundation says: “We are happy about the progress that our working groups have made over the last months, despite COVID-19 and the associated restrictions. The completion of the second release candidate and an impressive multi-vendor live demo is a major achievement because the specifications are now mature so that the member review process could be started.”

Since the start of the Field Level Communications Initiative in November 2018 more than 320 experts from over 65 OPC Foundation member companies have contributed to generate the technical concepts and elaborate the specification contents for extending the OPC UA framework for field level communications, including Determinism, Motion, Instruments and Functional Safety.

Thomas Brandl from Bosch Rexroth, who is chairman of the Field Level Communications Initiative’s Steering Committee, comments: “It is remarkable how many companies - including all major automation suppliers and key technology providers from all over the world – have been contributing to our initiative and how constructively all the experts have been working together to advance the common goal of bringing OPC UA to the field level.”

Progress has also been made by two other working groups of the Field Level Communications Initiative, contributing to a harmonized solution for motion and safety applications:

  • The Safety Working Group has finalized Version 2.0 of the OPC UA Safety specification (OPC 10000-15) that includes extensions for OPC UA PubSub and support for OPC UA FX (Field eXchange).
  • The Motion Working Group has started work in May 2020 to develop an architecture and common information model for motion devices which has resulted in requirements specifications and technical concept creation.

Stefan Hoppe, President OPC Foundation: “Because of its versatility and manufacturer independence, OPC UA is already today used in many different industrial applications and is being supported by various initiatives in process and factory automation. The OPC UA extensions specified by the Field Level Communications Initiative are a key driver to support the vision of the OPC Foundation to establish OPC UA as a fully scalable, standardized industrial interoperability solution, from sensor to cloud.”

About the Field Level Communications Initiative:

The following companies are members of the Field Level Communications Initiative’s Steering Committee, providing both technical and much appreciated financial support: ABB, Beckhoff, Rexroth, B&R, Cisco, Emerson, Festo, Hilscher, Hirschmann, Huawei, Intel, Kalycito, Kuka, Lenze, Mitsubishi Electric, Molex, Moxa, Murrelektronik, Omron, Phoenix Contact, Pilz, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Siemens, TTTech , Wago, Yokogawa. The technical working groups of the Field Level Communications Initiative are open to all OPC Foundation members.

About the OPC Foundation:

Since 1996, the OPC Foundation has facilitated the development and adoption of the OPC information exchange standards. As both advocate and custodian of these specifications, the Foundation’s mission is to help industry vendors, end-users, and software developers maintain interoperability in their manufacturing and automation assets.

The OPC Foundation is dedicated to providing the best specifications, technology, process, and certification to achieve multivendor, multiplatform, secure, reliable, interoperability for moving data and information from the embedded world to the enterprise cloud. The Foundation serves over 850 members worldwide in the Industrial Automation, IT, IoT, IIoT, M2M, Industrie 4.0, Building Automation, machine tools, pharmaceutical, petrochemical, and Smart Energy sectors.

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Stefan Hoppe
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