OPC UA

Complete Secured Solution in IIoT Communication

OPC UA is much more than 'just' another protocol! The technology is sovereignly developed by over 750 OPC Foundation members in a non-profit organization.

OPC UA Eliminates M2M Language Difficulties

  • Developing Together – Acting with Confidence
  • Scalable from Sensor to the Cloud
  • +45,000 OPC UA Compatible Products
  • OPC Technology is Open Source
  • +50 Free Companion Specifications
  • Real-Time Communication
  • True End- to-End Encryption
  • Automatic Certificate Management Included
  • OPC UA Supports All Languages
  • The Solution for All Industries

Stefan Hoppe, President and Executive Director, OPC Foundation in an Interview with RFID & Wireless IoT Global.

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OPC UA Offers Advantages for Every Industry, Saves Costs and Ensures Security

OPC UA is much more than 'just' another protocol!

The technology is sovereignly developed by over 750 OPC Foundation members in a non-profit organization. All specifications, demo codes and further contents are open source. The OPC UA technology and access to test and certification laboratories are also available to nonmembers. The technology scales from the sensor at the field level via controllers and MES/ERP to the cloud. It always does so with true end-to-end encryption.

The security-by-design approach taken into account from the very beginning of all development relates not only to the transport layer, but especially to access and visibility of the information. The results of the BSI security study were published in 2016. If IT has always operated a service-oriented architecture (SoA), PubSub processing is common at the fieldbus level of automation and also cloud communication. With OPC UA no user has to make a decision.

OPC UA masters both PubSub communication mechanisms and an SoA-oriented approach. In order to standardize data and interfaces in the context of Industrie 4.0, more than 50 groups worldwide are currently developing OPC UA Companion Specifications for their industries in the fields of factory and process automation, energy industry, oil and gas industry, pharmaceuticals or even industrial catering equipment.

An example? The Open-SCS working group is addressing the standard for the serialization of pharmaceutical packaging to prevent counterfeiting. It is estimated that around one million people die every year as a result of taking counterfeit drugs. The Open-SCS working group is building its own information model based on OPC UA technology so that manufacturing pharmaceutical companies can securely pass on information on each packaging unit to the superimposed supply chain. The universal 'language' OPC UA reduces engineering costs to a mere fraction. Devices are integrated in ten minutes instead of hours or days.

1. The Solution for All Industries 

Every industry benefits from industrial interoperability - first and foremost the manufacturing or process industry, but also the world of commercial kitchen appliances. "Companies such as Volkswagen, Foxconn, Samsung, Miele, British American Tobacco from the side of factory automation, but also Equinor, Exor, Exxon Mobil, Bayer from the field of process automation have a high demand for using the functionalities of OPC UA in their automation environments", reports Stefan Hoppe.

Furthermore, cooperation has been established with all the major associations and organizations such as the VDMA, NAMUR, OPA, W3C and AIM. "This comprehensive spectrum of participants ensures the use of OPC UA in every industry", says Hoppe. Smart factories demand an independent, universal communication techno-logy that is not bound to manufacturers, industries or programming languages. "OPC UA is most widely used in automation but is technologically completely industry neutral. Industrial kitchens today also use this interoperable communication technology 

2. OPC UA Supports All Languages 

OPC UA runs on all operating systems, as well as chip-level implementations without an operating system. OPC UA can be implemented in all languages – currently, stacks in Ansi C/C++, .NET, Java and many other languages are available as open source.  

3. Automatic Certificate Management Included 

"OPC UA has a free certificate management system that can be used to handle and organize the entire certificate administration. The user decides whether certificates should be exchanged every hour, every day or every month.", reports Hoppe. In order to implement this management, Microsoft has provided the OPC Foundation with an OPC UA Global Discovery Server (GDS) and client, and has published the source code as open source on GitHub – in parallel to commercial products on the market. The GDS manages certificates in addition to OPC UA server configurations and centralized recognition. With the GDS, Microsoft has provided the OPC Foundation with nearly 4.5 million lines of source code to date.  

4. True End-To-End Encryption 

OPC UA is a technology that can exchange data and information securely end-to-end via various protocols such as TCP, UDP, MQTT. The question, says Stefan Hoppe, is therefore not "Do I use MQTT or OPC UA?", because the basic assumption of the question is already wrong, as the OPC Foundation President explains: "OPC UA has already integrated MQTT. Using OPC UA over MQTT offers users an end-to-end encryption. This encryption is established between the OPC UA source and the OPC UA user. All data remains encrypted, no matter how many hops there are between source and user. Thus, OPC UA delivers significant added value compared to MQTT security, which relies on ensuring that no broker is compromised along the way."  

5. Real-Time Communication 

The clever design of OPC UA enables the support of additional underlying IT infrastructure without limiting the existing interoperability and compatibility. The OPC Field Level Communications Group, which was founded in 2018 and is now supported by 26 international companies (Siemens, ABB, Rockwell, Mitsubishi, Intel, Kuka and 20 other global leaders), uses this to expand OPC UA with TSN as deterministic communication with safety and motion in the factory.

The group also aims to establish OPC UA via Ethernet APL in the process industry and to address other topics such as OPC UA over 5G.  

6. +50 Free Companion Specifications 

The decisive key to digitalization lies not only in the transport, but also in the significance and description of of data and interfaces including their meaning and behavior.. New information models can be created based on the OPC UA data model and derived from OPC UA basic information models. The synergy of the OPC UA infrastructure for exchanging such companion specifications enables full interoperability on the semantic level. "Before a device and machine manufacturer starts a new development, it is always essential to check whether a Companion Specification already exists," says Hoppe.  

7. OPC Technology is Open Source

The OPC Foundation makes the OPC specifications public available for everybody (not only members). Additional the OPC Labs are available for everybody (also non members) to increase product stability. OPC technology is available for evaluation to everyone via the open source repositories. A large number of OPC open source initiatives for OPC UA from suppliers, research institutes and universities are continuously being published.

The open source repository of the OPC Foundation complements other open source initiatives. The OPC Foundation has provided resources on GitHub for moderating/ maintaining and extending the technology. This ensures that OPC UA can keep pace with technological transformations in all industries, the necessary architecture enhancements and the corresponding supporting specification.

8. +45,000 OPC UA Compatible Products

More than 4,200 suppliers have already developed over 45,000 different OPC UA-enabled products that are used in more than 49 million applications. Be it flow sensors, RFID readers, control modules, SCADA/ MES systems or network components - the range of hardware and software with integrated OPC UA servers or interfaces is growing almost daily.

"The 'openess' concept also applies here: No company has to be a paid member to have devices tested and certified in an OPC lab. Only registration and the coverage of certification costs must be guaranteed," emphasizes Hoppe.

9. Scalable from Sensor to the Cloud

Industry 4.0 applications require scalability for continuous networking from the smallest sensor, embedded devices and PLC controllers to cloud applications. Horizontal and vertical communication across all levels is fundamental. "OPC UA is used from embedded field devices such as RFID readers, all existing controllers, SCADA solutions, MES and ERP systems such as SAP, to the clouds of Microsoft, AWS or Google. The scalability is 100 percent," says Hoppe.

10. Developing Together - Acting with Confidence

"The foundation, like the UN, is a neutral ground on which no single major power alone sets the rules. Just as governments act sovereignly as states within the UN, the groups within the OPC Foundation also act very independently. Acting as a group within the OPC Foundation saves coordination, organization costs, and the technologies benefit from worldwide patent protection. All interested parties are invited to participate directly and purposefully in the development of the technology or in new user groups under the umbrella of the OPC Foundation. Each group is free to generate additional financial means for its own goals. However, they agree to uniform, modern legal regulations," says Hoppe, describing the main idea behind the work within, or in cooperation with, the foundation.

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OPC UA Compliance Test Tool (UACTT)
Stefan Hoppe
Stefan Hoppe
President & Executive Director
Verl, Germany
Alexander Allmendinger
Alexander Allmendinger
Test Lab Manager
Salach, Germany
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