OPC UA – Open yet highly secure communication in Industrial Manufacturing

The Device Chronicle interviews Jouni Aro, CTO of Finnish provider Prosys OPC about its membership of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance and its development of tools for OPC UA.

A special thanks to Zhibek Moldagaliyeva, Marketing Manager, Prosys OPC, for organizing this executive interview. 

Jouni begins by explaining that Espoo-based Prosys OPC was Invited to join the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance more than 2 years ago by their customers. He says from what they heard about the OI4, they found it interesting. They had been long time members of the OPC Foundation where they had a hand in developing the OPC technology. Describing the opportunity, Jouni says “The OI4 felt like a way to help us enlarge circles and bring broader solutions to the market. The OI4 is concentrating on setting up projects from products of the members so it is closer to the end customers, so complementary to the standardization work of the OPC Foundation.” 

OPC UA expert Jouni Aro
Jouni Aro, CTO, Prosys OPC and OPC UA expert

From OPC to OPC UA and beyond

Prosys was set up 27 years ago, Jouni joined in 1996. From inception, the company started providing solutions to the automated industry. Jouni explains that they wanted to bring proper software development to the market and so started working with the likes of ABB and Metso in the Finnish market who needed custom solutions at that time to meet their needs. Jouni explains that “Often device information has to be fetched from devices, machines and different devices from different vendors so OPC was used to get access to different industrial devices without having to learn all different protocols specific to the vendors. Software was quite different in the 90s: the focus was on the functionality of the device and that was the focus of the software developer. But then open standards came and changed everything.”

The open world suited Prosys well and the big vendors supported OPC. Jouni explains that there was a complete rewrite to OPC in 2010. OPC UA includes security features built in and this development is ongoing and becoming broader in scope. It had a binary protocol, a Service Oriented Architecture that defines services in a certain way, so reading and writing data and events extend to alarms, and users can see trends of measurements in a historical way. It is about “simple measurement data that can be represented with objects and goes as far as semantic modelling between different systems – how to start and control machines for instance.” OPC UA gets applied to SCADA systems, MES applications, process orchestration and cloud systems such as MQTT and there, JSON can be used to send the messages with the data changes. For high throughput, it has its own highly efficient transport protocol. 

Prosys OPC products for OPC UA

Prosys OPC builds toolkits for device and machine builders to be able to build products that depend on OPC UA – SDKs – using Delphi originally – and moved to create OPC UA for Java and that has been its main product for the last 10 years. They also offer a server to convert ModBus communication to OPC UA and is very common in building automation. It also offers a simulation service to show how OPC UA works on devices, a monitor application connects to any OPC UA application and creates monitoring screens. The SDKs are used by machine builders and automation system vendors who need to add OPC UA to their products and solutions. Many are users of JAVA, and they work with Unified Automation to support other programming environments such as .Net. 

Adoption by machine builders

Jouni says that manufacturers in Germany have been the frontrunners in using OPC UA. Companies from other regions have been slower to adopt OPC UA. OPC UA fits in with Industrial IoT and smart manufacturing to allow for more intelligent components in the market that the manufacturers can use and get to work together to create more autonomous systems. Jouni says “All the industrial components are IoT-enabled in some sense.” He continues “Factories are often brownfield so the change is slow in most cases. The end user wants to ensure that components from different vendors can be set in the same network, some controlling others, and this is where it gets challenging so you need standard information models to follow. We hope we can control a robot from any vendor with standard commands and components.” In the end Jouni concludes by saying that production sites want to get more information out of the highly secure production machines to the office network, and OPC UA has the secure channel to enable this kind of encrypted communication. 

We wish Jouni and his colleagues well in their work with the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance.

Here is another article on machine builders in smart manufacturing. and – the provider of the Device Chronicle blog is a member of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance. 


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