Easier connectedness

Efforts continue to expand connections among plant-floor systems, the rest of the enterprise, and beyond. Many plants contain patchworks of custom code tying one system to another, which discourages upgrades, for fear something no longer will work. Others haven't bothered with such connections, but increasingly feel pressured to put information to better use.

12/01/2005


Efforts continue to expand connections among plant-floor systems, the rest of the enterprise, and beyond. Many plants contain patchworks of custom code tying one system to another, which discourages upgrades, for fear something no longer will work. Others haven't bothered with such connections, but increasingly feel pressured to put information to better use.

OPC is nearing completion of its Unified Architecture (UA), which, as the name implies, unifies prior OPC initiatives and creates greater connectedness between plant-level and enterprise systems. Included in UA are Internet-based standards and XML, providing a more secure, platform-independent way to upgrade beyond DCOM- (distributed component object-model) induced insecurities. UA servers also will smoothly accommodate prior DCOM-based devices.

Thank goodness for easier connections. OPC, has served as a much-needed universal translator, doing away with the need for 150 drivers connecting device to device. Vendors have chosen to use or not use numerous practical OPC specifications (covering alarms and events, historical data access, complex data, batch, data exchange, XML data access, commands, and security), an approach that prevents some software from playing nice with others. UA is designed to incorporate all OPC initiatives, which should dispell incompatibilities.

UA also embraces S95 and other industry data models, providing one structure to connect plant-floor systems with higher-level systems. While super-structure industrial information architectures provide benefits, incompatibilities among them seem ridiculous. Consider UA a grand unification scheme for automation and controls.

Why? "Information itself is becoming the engine that runs the production line," said ARC Advisory Group analysts in their Collaborative Discrete Automation System Study: "From product development engineering to factory floor production operations and extended supply chains, information from all domains must be shared across the product lifecycle and throughout the manufacturing enterprise." Standards can augment efficiencies. Imagine bidding based upon actual cost of production at the time and place that job would run, rather than on a close-enough guess plus a fudge percentage.

What's next? The UA spec needs to be finished; certifications are planned. Watch for UA-compatible products by mid-2006. Beyond that, look for diagnostics, system administration, configuration-change notification, and consistency check between layers. Perhaps it also could make IEC 61131 programming really interoperate among vendors. Then, maybe... world peace?

Thanks for a great 2005, and all the best for a more unified '06.

Mark T. Hoske , Editor-in-Chief

MHoske@cfemedia.com





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