September 2014

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EMAIL INTERVIEWTom Burke and Ken Sinclair

Thomas J. Burke
OPC Foundation President

OPC Unified Architecture

is designed for information integration between industrial automation and building automation systems.

The OPC Foundation has been collaborating with many other standards organizations in the advancement of interoperability by providing an information integration infrastructure for standardizing of complex data models into the easy to understand OPC UA information model namespace.   One of the most important collaborations has been building automation.

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SinclairI have watched the OPC Foundation change over the last 20 years from starting as a simple data access standard for industrial automation control systems to now being well recognized as the organization for providing standards for information integration from the embedded world to the enterprise in industrial automation, and at the same time is providing an infrastructure to allow other standards organizations to take advantage of this really cool OPC stuff.   Can you give us some insight into your vision and what are the benefits of the OPC unified architecture?

Burke:  When we started the OPC unified architecture in 2004, the concept was to provide a set of services that would facilitate moving data and information across corporate firewalls allowing control systems and IT systems information integration.  The service-oriented architecture of the OPC unified architecture provided a highly scalable architecture that allowed an easy mechanism to embed the OPC technology into very small devices, like a chip for instance.  Consequently we had a strategy that provided an infrastructure for devices and applications to be connected seamlessly using the OPC UA services.  Because we had separated out the standard OPC data models from the services like read and write, we actually set the stage for the OPC unified architecture information model building blocks.  Now we have a way that allows OPC, vendors, and other organizations to be able to add information models to the architecture allowing generic clients to be able to discover and use the OPC UA services to operate on.  The benefits of OPC UA are really opening the door for information integration at its finest because OPC UA provides a multiplatform secure reliable interoperability infrastructure that seamlessly provides the ability for information models to be easily added into total systems.

Sinclair Building automation has changed a lot over the last few years with the advancements of technology being available and the desire for having data and information from the entire myriad of connected devices.  How do you see the opportunity for the connected devices and building automation being relevant to the industrial automation sector?  Does OPC plan to play a part in this as well?

Burke:  OPC started as a mechanism for providing data acquisition services between devices and first-tier visualization applications, all based on the Microsoft OLE technology.  The market OPC initially served was totally focused on the domain of industrial automation.   We continued to add support for more OPC data like alarming and history but each with their own separate data acquisition remote procedure calls.  With OPC UA we separated out the services from the data.  With all these connected devices we can now have a single set of services be able to acquire the data from the connected devices.  Now we have a mechanism to do data integration between industrial automation and other related domains inclusive of building automation.  The opportunity to do complex energy management is simply a byproduct of this information integration.

SinclairOur readers hear a lot from the OPC Foundation about technology innovation.  How does the OPC Foundation look at all the constantly changing and new technology coming out on a daily basis and decide which wave to ride in developing OPC specifications?

Burke:  There’s lots of new technology coming out on a daily basis.  It’s very important to be very proactive developing standards to make sure that the standards being developed can adapt to the new technology.  With OPC UA we have built an abstract model that is independent of the technology that is available today and tomorrow.  I call this timeless durability.  One of the things we are constantly looking at is the underlying communication technology, and how OPC UA can leverage the changes in networking and security.  We provide an abstract layer that allows our members to build OPC UA products and then be able to easily incorporate new versions of the underlying technology without rebuilding their OPC-based products.  We’ve done the same thing with information modeling.  We expect new information models to be developed for the OPC UA architecture and we want to have existing OPC UA client applications that were developed last year be able to easily and seamlessly work with the new OPC UA servers that will be developed with new information models 10 years from now.  The wave we ride is called building an abstract architecture that is easily adaptable to the ever-changing technology.

SinclairI understand there’s an initiative that the OPC is engaged in with the BACnet group in Europe.  What are the benefits and what is the plan with respect to this initiative?

Burke:  This is a very exciting initiative that we have going on.  We formed cooperation between the OPC Foundation and the BACnet Interest Group Europe.  The concept is pretty simple; we can have integration between the world of MES via OPC UA,  and be able to exchange information between building automation devices and systems and industrial automation systems.


The working group is composed of vendors from both organizations.  Specifically the charter of this working group was to do a mapping between the BACnet and OPC UA object models. Both sides of the opportunity with respect to integration of information between industrial automation and building automation as being key to solving critical automation opportunities in commercial facilities inclusive of energy management.  The working group started in October 2012, and with a dedicated set of volunteers a final draft of the OPC Unified Architecture companion specification was available in April 2014.  The group is actively developing a prototype to prove the feasibility and demonstrate how both OPC and BACnet vendors can build OPC UA products supporting the information model.  The final release of this particular companion specification is expected the end of 2014.  This is a major breakthrough with respect to providing a mapping between the two organizations truly facilitating information integration between industrial automation and building automation.

SinclairThis whole concept of the Internet of things and Industry 4.0 seems to be getting quite a bit of buzz and publicity from a worldwide perspective.  Is the OPC Foundation engaged in these opportunities, and if so how and what does the future hold for these themes of connectivity?

Burke:  OPC is actively engaged in both the Internet of things and industry 4.0 and our theme for 2015 will focus on the success stories that our vendors rollout with the myriad of connected devices that the Internet of things brings to the table. 

Internet of Things
We have active participation through our European counterparts for the industry 4.0 initiatives.  Everything we do in 2015 and beyond will be highly focused at the Internet of things cloud computing, analytics and big data.  We also will keep watching and making sure that OPC UA adapts to new technology that hasn’t even been invented yet.  The aura of consumer electronics and how all of the end-users are expecting products from multiple vendors to seamlessly work together is really driving a lot of these connectivity requirements.

SinclairThe OPC Foundation is collaborating with many standards organizations and other consortiums.  How do you know which organizations you should be partnering with?

Burke:  It is no secret that my focus with respect to collaboration is always about success being measured by the level of adoption of technology.  The OPC unified architecture provides an easy platform for other consortiums to model their information and develop OPC UA companion specifications, that ultimately can be certified for reliability and interoperability.  Many consortiums actually develop OPC UA companion specifications without any involvement from anyone in the OPC community.  At the same time we actually have active collaborations and working groups where members of the OPC foundation and OPC community are actively participating to actually standardize on information and services that extend the reach of OPC UA into other verticals and other domains.  We are actively working at extending the reach of OPC into the oil/gas domain and building automation.

Reliable Controls Sinclair So what is the OPC Foundation direction for the next 10 years from a business and technical perspective?

Burke:  The expectations of both the suppliers and the end-users have changed dramatically over the last 10 years and we can only anticipate that continued advancements in technology along with human interactions will continue to evolve at record-setting paces. Two years from now is the planned announcement from General Motors about the self driving automobile on the Cadillac brand. This kind of thought pattern advancing technology where you literally will not have to have your hands on the steering wheel when you’re driving on the freeway has significant potential ramifications for even more data and information integration and device and application connectivity requirements.  My vision of OPC is to continue providing specifications and technology and most importantly certification for the ever-changing advancing technology that provides a solid infrastructure in this connected world with complete information integration that seamless between all the connected devices.  Cooperation and collaboration is very important as we all work together to look for opportunities to lower our costs and maximize efficiency of operations.  To say the least we need to provide a solid infrastructure that allows information integration in the global economy in a highly connected world of applications and devices.  From a business perspective the focus must be on analytics and secure information access.  We see a high dependency on the use of analytics and big data and the cloud as part of the critical infrastructure to support these highly connected devices sharing information.

Most importantly I’m always seeking and working with the movers and shakers in our industry to help us advance technology and make sure we are doing the right thing for our suppliers and end-users alike.


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