Standard of the future: The “Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture”, or OPC UA, is increasingly gaining acceptance in mechanical and plant engineering. This open interface enables digital networking, runs on numerous operating systems, and ensures manufacturer-independent compatibility.
The OPC UA Demonstrator is a new future-oriented approach by VDMA Robotics + Automation for standardized and manufacturer-independent data exchange. This communication standard extends across multiple levels of the automation pyramid and puts an end to strictly hierarchical data flow. In other words: It is an enabler of digital networking in production.
What has been common in offices for a long time—thanks to network interfaces and USB connectors—will now become a reality in production as well. “Plug & work” enables conversion of production facilities according to changing requirements—regardless of which machine or component was supplied by which manufacturer. Apart from condition monitoring and predictive maintenance, OPC UA also enables general production optimization through standardized on-hand information.
However, the devil is in the details: Even if all machines and systems use OPC UA, they still cannot completely “understand” each other. The precondition for flawless communication is a standardized communication medium (e.g. wired or cell phone) as well as a definition of the format and the meaning of information (semantics). To be more specific: There must be a definition on how information—be it measured values, alarms or conditions—is interpreted, i.e. which data format and what unit is used. Here, it is up to the manufacturers organized in the VDMA to agree on so-called companion specifications.
VDMA Robotics + Automation with its more than 280 members is one of the first industry associations worldwide to work on such a OPC UA companion specification that will cover large parts of the automation industry. The goal: Paving the way for more efficient and transparent production processes to enable even more flexible, fast, and customized implementations of customer specifications.
The OPC UA Demonstrator integrated use case control and condition monitoring, making OPC UA’s potential tangible. Rather than presenting an abstract concept, the displayed system was a physical, fully automated unit that assembled fidget spinners. Here, interested visitors ordered products with a custom design, which was then be produced live and on the spot.
More than 20 component manufacturers, system integrators and software specialists joined hands for this project to integrate a rotary indexing table, axes and grippers, machine vision systems and robots. Condition monitoring was cloud-based and independent from the manufacturer or type of robot. All relevant condition data were monitored in real time on a dashboard.
Open communication standards are vital for the production of the future. OPC UA enables standardized collaboration between different machines and systems regardless of platform or manufacturer. This video explains what the VDMA OPC UA Companion Specifications are all about.
The first step is to define a motion device system, e.g. through measured values, condition information, and properties of robot axes. The goal: Standardized and manufacturer-independent provision of condition data and device information to superimposed IT systems such as MES, Line PLC and the cloud. In the next step, notification mechanisms and a state machine will be integrated and the information model extended to include geometric descriptions.
The first part of the companion specification controls the machine vision system. This requires synchronization of a machine vision system’s activities with the mechanics of the machine or installation. For this purpose, a capability-based modeling approach was selected to derive the system’s behavior using a state machine, hence controlling the machine vision system using method calls.
These solutions are based on a generic approach using skills. All components such as grippers, linear axes and swiveling units can be defined independently from manufacturers and resources using standardized skills. Here, many assembly and handling tasks use a combination of skills. These combinations enable users to orchestrate the entire process of any given machine. Skills are defined and called using OPC UA methods.
VDMA e. V.
Afag Automation AG
Asentics VARIO GmbH
ASYS Group GmbH
elrest Automationssysteme GmbH
Festo AG & Co. KG
HAHN Automation GmbH
ISRA VISION AG
Institut für industrielle Informationstechnik
KraussMaffei Technologies GmbH
Mitsubishi Electric Corporation
Schunk GmbH & Co. KG
Siemens Ingenuity for Life
Unified Automation GmbH
VITRONIC Dr.-Ing. Stein Bildverarbeitungssysteme GmbH
Weiss Robotics GmbH & Co. KG
Yaskawa Electric Corporation
Zeltwanger Automation GmbH