Industry 4.0 OPC UA - The Global Production Language
In the digital production world, machines from different manufacturers must be able to communicate with each other. This requires uniform standards, which VDMA – the German engineering Association – is playing a major role in developing: the OPC UA Companion Specifications.
OPC UA is the preferred Industry 4.0 standard for mechanical and plant engineering. The VDMA recognized at an early stage that OPC UA can be used as a basis for Industry 4.0 use cases. In this context, Industry 4.0 communication with OPC UA can be characterized primarily by two levels: The communication level and the information level.
The communication level focuses on the transmission technologies and protocols with which information can be transported. Components, machines and systems must be able to exchange data and information without obstacles. By using OPC UA as the communication technology, cross-manufacturer and secure communication from the shop floor level to the cloud can be realized.
The information level focuses on the information transmitted via OPC UA and defined in information models, such as technical properties. This includes, among other things, the description of the manufacturer name, the device type, the device configuration, but also process data such as temperatures, pressures, feed rates or cycle times. Only established interface information is standardized. This means that no market-competitive or copyright-relevant information is included in the standards.
"Easy Integration" as a Requirement
The goal is to promote plug & produce through interoperability at both the communication and information levels. Efficient integration of components, machines or systems into existing production lines or systems should thus become a long-term reality. Today, both the interface technologies and the information to be exchanged via the technology vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and are also developed individually for the customer. OPC UA as an interface can also be seen as an integrator in this context in the areas of communication and information. This is because OPC UA reduces the complexity of interfaces related to communication technologies through its broad applicability. OPC UA Companion Specifications make it possible to standardize technical properties and information across manufacturers. Only through this standardized description, the structure and unique meaning of a machine type are defined via the interface. The meaning of the exchanged information is understood in the same way by all components, machines and systems in the network. This allows them to be integrated efficiently into production and systems.
VDMA is a Key Player
The contents of the OPC UA Companion Specifications are developed by VDMA members as well as national and international companies. VDMA is in charge of the working groups in the corresponding trade associations. The contents of the OPC UA Companion Specifications can only result from the expertise of the companies. In addition to mechanical and plant engineering companies, integrators, system providers and users are also involved in the OPC UA Companion Specifications work. The wide range of opinions and cooperation ensures the acceptance and thus also the application of the OPC UA Companion Specifications worldwide.
In addition, VDMA is developing the OPC UA Companion Specifications jointly with the OPC Foundation, ensuring even greater acceptance and adaptation worldwide. The fact that VDMA identified the OPC UA Companion Specifications at an early stage as a central initiative for the practical implementation of interoperable communication and integrated it as a strategic and operational field of action in its association work is paying off.
Today, VDMA has become the global center of gravity for developing OPC UA Companion Specifications for mechanical and plant engineering. In association with more than 600 national and international companies, some 25 subsectors are already developing OPC UA Companion Specifications for a wide variety of machine types in more than 35 working groups. The work of the working groups is generally industry-supported, and the VDMA provides technical and organizational support. The commitment of the companies underlines the role of OPC UA and the Companion Specifications.
The broad acceptance by the stakeholders results, among other things, from the open source approach of OPC UA, which also underlies the OPC UA Companion Specifications. All OPC UA Companion Specifications are available free of charge. For this purpose, VDMA has set up a download page in German and English that all industries worldwide can access and view OPC UA Companion Specifications already in the design phase.
"OPC UA for Machinery" Interface Harmonization for the Entire Mechanical Engineering Industry
Obviously, with the high number of OPC UA Companion Specifications, there is recurring interface content, such as information for identifying machines and components or states of machines. This cross-industry information is being harmonized across the board for the entire mechanical and plant engineering industry. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) has also recognized the importance of this harmonization and is promoting corresponding activities in the "Interoperable Interfaces for intelligent Production" (II4IP) project. This overarching standard, known as "OPC UA for Machinery", is being developed based on existing industry-specific OPC UA standards for mechanical and plant engineering or those currently being processed. Here, it is important to consider the requirements of the manufacturing sector and the entire industrial value network, as well as to integrate players within and outside the machinery and plant engineering sector. This not only promotes interoperability between machines from diverse industries in production but also increases the speed at which industry-specific OPC UA Companion Specifications can be developed.