Automation News

OPC UA And The Industrial Internet of Things

27 Jul , 2017  

The Open Platform Communications’ Unified Architecture (OPC UA), is an open and secure platform that allows programmable logic controllers (PLCs) to communicate. This platform can aid in data analysis around the plant, in addition to reducing costs for licencing, staff training, hardware upgrades and system migration.

Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of industrial obsolete parts supplier EU Automation, says that the combination of data from multiple platforms is now possible. The Open Platform Communications’ Unified Architecture (OPC UA) is a machine communication protocol for industrial automation. Produced by the OPC foundation, it is cross platform, open and secure, allowing both new and legacy programmable logic controllers (PLCs) to communicate.

OPC UA replaces the OPC Classic protocol, retaining all the functionality of its predecessor. Because OPC Classic was built upon the Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM), a Microsoft communication technology, OPC Classic was bound to Windows, which became increasingly limiting.

OPC UA is fully interoperable across the many different operating systems used within the plant and on the factory floor. This is in addition to Windows and industrial technologies such as PLCs, and includes Linux, iOS, and even mobile operating systems such as Android. Allowing as many devices as possible to communicate aids in the progress of IoT.

One concern brought about by IoT is cyber security. As proven by the Stuxnet worm, PLCs, and other pieces of factory equipment, are susceptible to attacks. Because manufacturing plants were previously tied to DCOM, protocols were struggling with the complexity of modern technologies, resulting in a higher chance of possible flaws. As OPC UA is built from the ground up with cybersecurity in mind, these risks are reduced.

Although previous protocols allowed for industry to progress up to the brink of Industry 4.0, OPC UA is the more appropriate protocol for the Industrial Internet of Things. It acts as the emulsifying agent and allows for plants to fully implement and gain the benefit of IoT and Industry 4.0, Wilkins says.

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