Interoperability highlights ARC Forum in Boston

By Control Engineering Staff July 13, 2006

Interoperability formed the focus for this year’s ARC Advisory Group ’s annual forum in June. More than 350 gathered to hear manufacturers, vendors and ARC analysts discuss trends, technology and best-practice case studies. DuPont’s vice president of engineering explained how interoperability is fundamental to DuPont’s process transformation, while the OPC Foundation formally announced its Unified Architecture (UA) for data and information sharing between the plant floor and the enterprise.

OPC-UA unifies existing OPC specifications and leverages SOA-based Web services technology as the communication mechanism with enterprise systems. “It’s not about data anymore, but information—taking information from the shop floor to the top floor,” said Tom Burke, OPC president and executive director. “We started by looking at all the protocols in our domain. The number is huge. We have thousands of applications and devices and protocols out there—how do we make it all work together? The concept is about supporting all that and making OPC real.”

Any plant system that is currently using OPC communications can add OPC-UA applications to gain the added value of Web services that allow for more enterprise connectivity. ICONICS, Invensys, GE Fanuc and other vendors announced their support of the standard. “Adding OPC-UA connectivity to all ICONICS solutions gives our users the most reliable, secure and scalable open standard communication model available for plant connectivity,” said Russ Agrusa, president and CEO of ICONICS. “We are excited to be one of the first to offer OPC-UA across the boards in all ICONICS solutions.”

ARC Advisory Group president Andy Chatha said this year’s forum was focusing on how to achieve enterprise-wide integration using industry standards. “Achieving enterprise integration and interoperability is challenging—but the benefits are significant,” he added.

Chatha encouraged attendees to do two things: “You must have design, operate, and maintain functions supported by systems that are highly interoperable. And you must make sure that people collaborate, working with each other closely. Production-to-business interoperability before was mostly achieved through custom solutions. More and more, it is achieved through standards-based solutions,” he said.

In his keynote address, James Porter, chief engineer and VP of safety, health, environment, and engineering for DuPont, said, “Interoperability is not just about business. It is also about maintaining our core values—safety and health, and environmental stewardship to the highest technical standards.”

It is also fundamental to DuPont’s process transformation, Porter said, which is driven by intensive knowledge management. “If you don’t have interoperability, you don’t have access to all your knowledge.” In the process of transformation, he continued, “the vision I’m trying to follow is to be highly automated and integrated across all phases and processes of the capital project facilities life cycle. Imagine if, when you wanted to build a new facility, you had all your design and engineering on a CD—rather than in the minds of a few people where it was only valuable until they forget it,” Porter said. The only way this will be possible “is if we develop an industry data integration standard, aligning around a set of standards by working together,” he said. “Coming together in forums like this is key to driving positive progress in achieving interoperability.”

Executives from Bose Corp., Teva Pharmaceutical, NOVA Chemicals, Solectron, Philip Morris, Dow Chemical, General Motors, Procter & Gamble, were among others who also spoke at the conference.

— Frank O. Smith , Contributing Editor , Control Engineering