A new genre of industrial data exchange between industrial machines and communication PCs is on the rise – the Open Platform Communications United Architecture (OPC UA). Interestingly, application manufacturers, system providers, programming languages, and operating systems have no bearing on this open interface standard.

The most significant distinction between OPC UA and the previous versions of industrial communication protocol is how the machine data can be transferred – in bundles of information that machines and devices can understand. OPC UA allows devices communicate with each other (horizontally) and also with the upward components like PLCs, SCADA/HMI (Human Machine Interface), MES (Manufacturing Execution System), and up to the Enterprise Cloud (vertically). The horizontal and vertical spectrum comprises OPC UA components, including devices, machines, systems, gateways, and servers that are integrated with machines and devices.

Why is OPC UA Important in Industry 4.0?

The secure, standardized flow of data and information across devices, equipment, and services, are some of the problems for Industry 4.0 and the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The IEC 62541 standard OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) [I.1] was the only recommended option for creating the communication layer in the Reference Architecture Model for Industry 4.0 (RAMI 4.0) in April 2015.

The most fundamental prerequisite for adopting OPC UA for industrial 4.0 communication is an Internet Protocol-based network (IP). Anyone who wishes to promote themselves as “Industry 4.0-capable” must also be OPC-UA-capable (integrated or via a gateway).

Implementation of Industry 4.0 to Overcome Interoperability

OPC UA is a powerful solution for overcoming interoperability issues in Industry 4.0.

Interoperability is one of the most significant problems that I4.0 presents to companies. Through its semantic communication standard, OPC UA demonstrates that it is a solution. OPC UA is a crucial contributor to Industry4.0 because it facilitates information transfer between devices and machines, which cannot understand confusing instructions. The more specific the instructions are, the better the outcome.

The selection of tools is crucial for installing the finest OPC UA for any automation system. Because the devices in industrial automation systems are administered by software, a well-functioning software development kit (SDK) is required. It guarantees that end-users and software engineers have a good user experience.

Important factors to consider while implementing OPC UA :

The appropriate software development kit is essential for establishing an efficient OPC UA. We’ve compiled a list of ten considerations for an automation maker, OEM, discrete, and process manufacturer when selecting an SDK.

The Ideal SDK Vendor

Most businesses lack adequate resources, both technological and human. Such gaps force organizations to outsource their requirements. As a result, the chosen SDK must fulfill its application requirements while improving the time to market. An ideal SDK must be advantageous in terms of both money and performance. A majority of SDK consultants provide the core functionalities that offer fundamental OPC UA advantages such as security and API.

Scalability

A scalable SDK empowers OPC UA to support both new and existing systems. It allows the platform-independent toolkits to function efficiently for both lightweight and enterprise-level applications. As a result, manufacturers must consider a scalable SDK that is platform or OS agnostic and supports vendor-independent hardware.

Utilization Ease

It is one of the most preferred yet neglected features. An SDK should be simple to use so that OEMs or small-scale manufacturers can save time and resources learning the OPC UA specification. It must support a basic application and provide API connectivity.

CPU Helper

An OPC UA SDK developed using architectural principles for embedded devices uses considerably less CPU. It also means that the software program may do a lot of work on a single thread. It is useful when multi-threads aren’t accessible. It is also economical because it offers a low-cost CPU that can perform majority of the work in multi-thread scenarios.

Excellent Memory

A decent OPC UA implementation should be light on RAM and have a small footprint. Generally, memory leaks can build up over time and put the entire system to a halt. There must be no memory leaks in the OP UA SDK (under any use case situations).

Security and Compatibility

The OPC UA SDK toolkit must be interoperable with diverse applications and meet stringent security requirements. The OPC UA standards provide various security options, and an ideal SDK should support them all.

Language Assistance

Even though C++ is the most common language for writing SDK programming, other languages like Java, C, .NET, and others are also utilized based on the needs. Developing an OPC UA SDK in multiple languages facilitates incremental enhancements to their products based on specifications such as AMQP, Pub/Sub, and UDP.

Third-party Libraries

Because most businesses have preferred libraries, SDK suppliers usually include wrappers such as standard crypto libraries, use-case examples, manuals, and API references to utilize wrappers such as NanoSSL, mBed TLS, TinyXML2, and Lib2XML. Scope for Future Improvements

An SDK must be capable of evolving to support emerging technologies and processes. Because of the continuing advances in SDKs and OPC Foundation-based technologies such as AMQP Pub/Sub, UDP, and TSN, manufacturers must guarantee that SDK suppliers are equipped with the required capabilities while implementing industry-relevant protocols.

Vendor Assistance

SDK suppliers must provide knowledge and support to manufacturers at every stage of their OPC UA deployment. An efficient OPC UA deployment requires a partnership built on trust, mutual benefits, and understanding.

OEMs, discrete and process manufacturers must collaborate to understand and execute OPC UA requirements for everybody’s benefit.

How OPC UA contributes to Industry 4.0 and overcomes interoperability challenges

OPC UA provides a mechanism for safe and reliable data sharing. As the world’s most popular open connectivity standard, it plays a crucial role in achieving Industry 4.0 goals.

OPC UA fulfills the Industry4.0 requirements of platform independence and time-durability. Additionally, OPC UA is designed to enable future factories to include ‘invisible’ components into their permanent data exchange, thereby significantly enhancing OPC UA’s position in the realm of Internet of Things.

Embedded OPC UA technology allows open connection to devices, sensors, and controllers, providing many benefits to businesses. End-users gain from speedier decision-making due to the data it delivers, and the integrated corporate architecture becomes a reality.

The notion of an interconnected industry is central to Industry 4.0. As the precursor to OPC UA, OPC Classic pioneered an ‘open data connection’ revolution, removing proprietary connectivity barriers between the management, control systems, and the rest of the organization.

OPC UA takes the notion of a unified solution a step further with its platform & operating system agnostic approach and data modelling features. These enable UA to natively represent data from practically any data source on one side while retaining data context and delivering it to consumers in the best possible way. Correctly expressing data structures using consistent UA data models successfully abstracts the physical layer devices.

Future Scope:

All components in the ‘factory of the future’ will operate independently, relying on interconnections. Whether such elements are people, machines, equipment, or systems, they must be designed to gather and exchange meaningful information. As a result, future components will communicate and operate intelligently.

While the industry is on the verge of the latest industrial revolution, interconnection is the essential enabler. OPC UA, a standard that facilitates interoperability at all levels – device to device, a device to business, and beyond – is a critical component of this process.

Conclusion

While a fully functional Industry 4.0 may seem like a pipe dream at this point, the industrial transformation at the grass-root level is already in full swing. Controlling the flow of resources, commodities, and information, enabling speedier decision-making, and simplifying reporting are advantages those businesses may anticipate as they transition to Industry 4.0.

Intelligent materials will instruct machines on how to process them; maintenance and repair will evolve to transform inflexible production lines into modular and efficient systems. Eventually, a product’s complete lifespan can be road-mapped with its practical performance. OPC UA, which enables intelligent data exchanges across all levels of an organization, will play a significant role in evangelizing Industry 4.0


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