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 Interoperability Showcase” created by the VDMA shows standards for vendor-independent communication between automation devices: OPC UA, digital twins, asset administration shell and UMATI-Dashboards – all these concepts will become tangible at the demonstrators.
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A special highlight at automatica 2022: our Industry 4.0 demonstrator that makes the advantages of digital twins in production tangible. The demonstrator is a real assembly machine with rotary indexing table that also has a digital likeness in which the viewers can virtually immerse themselves. It visualizes the interaction of various Industry 4.0 components as part of a higher-level concept and highlights the benefits of this interaction.
These components consist of the OPC UA companion specifications, the skill concept, and the digital twin. Cross-domain interoperability is al-ready a reality here – that is, the ability of a wide variety of devices and machines to communicate easily and directly with one another. For example, this is required when robots communicate with machine vision systems or machine tools – regardless of their manufacturer or location. Thus, the way for applications such as asset management, data mining, condition monitoring, virtual commissioning, machine learning, and many other business cases is being paved.
OPC UA technology was selected as the preferred standard because it can be used universally. The goal is to create a world language for machines that will enable all communication partners to understand what is being communicated. In other words, it defines the required semantics (‘vocabulary’). This can be a temperature, triggering of a motion, a machine condition, or a gripping force. The exact meaning must be clearly described in each case.
Such communication can be very specific: A robot will convey different information than a machine vision system. Therefore, each subsector in the mechanical engineering domain needs its very own and specific ‘companion’ – its own OPC UA companion specification. It defines the required vocabulary while the OPC UA technology provides the ‘grammar’.
Top-class experts such as Stefan Hoppe (Global Vice President OPC Foundation), Dr. Michael Hoffmeister (Festo AG & Co.KG), Bernd Fiebiger (R&D Principal Developer Systems Engineering, KUKA AG), Mohit Agarwal (System Architect, Atlas Copco) or Peter Lutz (Director of the FLC Initiative) will provide deep insights.
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 the 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.
VDMA Robotics + Automation with its more than 350 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 pro-duction processes to enable even more flexible, fast, and customized implementations of customer specifications.
The first part of the OPC UA Companion Specification for Robotics – OPC Robotics for short – is mainly about the two important use cases of asset management and condition monitoring. Here, the robot is generally described as a system of interconnected driven axes (a motion device system). The goal: standardized and manufacturer-independent provision of condition data and device information to corresponding IT systems such as MES, Line PLC, and the cloud.
The next version of OPC Robotics will feature dialog mechanisms enabling users, for example, to easily acknowledge a message from the robot. It will also be possible to control the robot remotely by loading, starting, or stopping programs without being on site.
The OPC UA Companion Specification for Machine Vision – OPC Machine Vision for short – provides a generic model for all machine vision systems – from simple machine vision sensors to complex inspection systems. In simpler terms, it defines the ‘core nature’ of a machine vision system. Part 1 describes the infrastructure layer, which is an abstraction of the machine vision system. It enables the control of the system in a generalized way by abstracting the required behavior via a so called ‘state machine’ concept. This allows the management of recipes, configurations, and results in a consistent manner while the content remains specific to vendors and/or applications, i.e. is treated as ‘black boxes’.
Part 2 of OPC Machine Vision describes the structural characteristics of a machine vision system and covers the aspects of component identification and condition monitoring as well as the machine vision system itself. These two approaches jointly map the digital representation of any machine vision system with all its properties and features.
These solutions are based on a generic approach using skills. ‘Move object’ is an illustrative and frequently used example of such a skill. It basically just defines that an object is to be moved to a specific position. This can now be executed by an industrial robot or other resources such as a conveyor belt, an overhead crane, or a human. The challenge is to standardize these skills in such a way that the parameters they contain can be used across resources. To achieve this, all components such as grippers, linear axes, and swivel units are described using standardized skills – independently from resources and manufacturers. These combinations enable users to orchestrate the entire process of any given machine. Skills are defined and called using OPC UA methods. Furthermore, the skill concept is supplemented with OPC UA information models for gripping and joining technology to further improve the digital twin.