ISA Expo 2003: OPC moves to web services, XML; collaborates with MIMOSA, ISA

OPC Foundation underlines its intent to transition away from ''component-based'' architecture to a more unified architecture by using Web services and XML. In addition OPC further aims to expand global interoperability efforts by forming a working group with The Instrumentation Systems and Automation Society (ISA), and MIMOSA (An Operations and Maintenance Open Systems Alliance.

By Control Engineering Staff October 22, 2003

Houston, TXOPC Foundation underlines its intent to transition away from ”component-based” architecture to a more unified architecture by using Web services and XML. In addition OPC further aims to expand global interoperability efforts by forming a working group with The Instrumentation Systems and Automation Society (ISA), and MIMOSA (An Operations and Maintenance Open Systems Alliance).

The three organizations will collaborate more closely to ”develop interoperable open solutions spanning from the factory floor through the enterprise,” they said in a joint announcement made today at the ISA Expo. In related news, nine companies demonstrated multi-vendor OpenO&M (operations and maintenance) interoperability (see below).

Moving away from component-based architectures will allow OPC to provide ”a richer user experience through the use of vendor products that will now be totally interoperable with full Internet connectivity and unlimited scalability across platforms of the end-users choice.” The Aug. 25 OPC XML DA specification breaks the tradition of COM/DCOM communications, on which OPC has relied since its beginnings in 1997. Web services and XML remove the limits of data and information isolation behind a corporate firewall—opening cross-platform connectivity over the Internet.

OPC Foundation President Tom Burke said: ”Our vision is to proactively support technology trends, to ensure members can build highly integrated and interoperable systems. Internet-based HMI is one possibility opened up by OPC XML DA. Others include Web-enabled field devices and enterprise-wide management systems. The OPC XML Data Access specification is now available complete with sample code for immediate implementation.”

The OPC Data eXchange 1.0 specification (released March 17, 2003) added web services to traditional ”component”-based connectivity, providing a choice of both strategies for cross-fieldbus interoperability via Ethernet. OPC data exchange promotes interoperability among devices on the industrial Ethernet, and leverages use of some of the facilities of our unified architecture using XML as the key technology for successful deployment.

OPC has traditionally provided interoperability between applications only inside the corporate intranet, allowing one application to exchange data with another application using Microsoft COM/DCOM framework. The server application identifies what components that it wishes to expose to client applications, and then the client subscribes to the components that it wants to be notified on exception. To move the exception-based data outside of the corporate intranet, custom applications are required to become the bridges and gateways. These custom applications must expose all the components from the factory floor to the higher-level applications and data are exchanged; in reality, the higher-level applications are looking for information to be constructed from the data from the factory floor.

The unified architecture increases reliability, redundancy and information throughput and ensures easier development and integration. It also means that raw data–which few people outside the plant floor are interested in–can be processed into meaningful information that meets the needs of managers, maintenance staff, accountants, etc. Asset Management and Production Control are just two areas that will benefit.

The OPC ”component”-based approach will remain valid indefinitely; more than 3,000 OPC products and many millions of installed systems remain in use, the OPC said. However, the OPC Foundation expects suppliers to quickly start using the services of the unified architecture for new product launches. Existing “component”-based OPC products will be able to plug and play into the new Web services part of the unified architecture, allowing existing products that previously were limited to the corporate intranet to transform their data into information outside those boundaries, as well as be interoperable on a multitude of platforms and address the critical issue of scalability.

Three-way alliance

To coordinate various standards development efforts, the three organizations have agreed to establish a Joint Working Group. According to a joint statement: ”The objective is to simplify the development of interoperable Operations & Maintenance (O&M) systems, equipment and software incorporating productized integration with each other and with other enterprise systems. Open integration requirements for applications, such as manufacturing execution systems, operations data historians, human-machine interfaces, enterprise resource planning, enterprise asset management, and condition-based maintenance will be addressed by the effort. Manufacturers, integrators, and end-users of such systems are all expected to benefit from this collaboration.”

MIMOSA and ISA SP95 define information and process models for information flow, essentially defining the ”what”, while OPC defines the ”how” to move the data and information, the organizations explained.

In prepared statements, leaders for the three groups explained the significance. Keith Unger, ISA SP95 Committee Chair said: ”Establishing this collaborative effort will help suppliers and end users by reducing the time it takes to establish open standards in integration between operations, maintenance and the overall enterprise. I look forward to working with OPC and MIMOSA to rapidly establish an effective and open integration standard.”

OPC’s Burke said: ”We’ve come a long way since OPC was just a way for HMI to see into someone else’s system. Today, not only do we have OPC solutions for just about any automation application, but we’ve moved into‘services’-based connectivity founded on our unified architecture. Our latest XML-enabled solutions allow equipment and systems to be monitored over the Internet as ‘information’ rather than raw data, facilitating easier Operations and Maintenance Management across the global environment. We can provide the ‘how’ for this increasingly sophisticated marketplace in support of the ‘what’ being defined by MIMOSA and ISA SP95.”

Alan Johnston, MIMOSA president said: ”I am really excited about this opportunity to improve the standards development process for our industry. While there are many separate groups seeking to establish standards, I believe collaboration is the key to being effective. By working together, I believe our three organizations can help each other to develop and propagate more useful consensus standards that will interoperate by design.”

Nine companies demonstrate open O&M

At the OPC Foundation pavilion (booth 1623) at ISA Expo 2003, OPC and MIMOSA members showed how products incorporate OpenO&M information standards announced Oct. 20. MIMOSA and OPC are jointly sponsoring the initial demonstration of these products in a multi-vendor OpenO&M interoperability demonstration at the Expo. The demonstration features CBM-oriented decision support, condition monitoring, operations data historian, human-machine interface and enterprise asset management systems integrated in a demonstration intended to show convergence of operations and maintenance (O&M) functions and applications. Vendors in this demonstration are: AspenTech, The DEI Group, Emerson Process Management, Iconics, Indus, OSIsoft, PdMA, Rockwell Automation, and Siemens.

The MIMOSA-OPC Joint Working Group published its initial OpenO&M Information Standards, said to combine the strengths of the OPC and MIMOSA XML-based open standards to enable applications to properly synthesize O&M-related information in an open, multi-vendor environment. OpenO&M enables operation and maintenance applications to now easily incorporate condition-based maintenance (CBM) functionality directly into their decision support systems. OPC and MIMOSA representatives say the direct benefits of OpenO&M-based productized integration will include lowered project costs, shortened implementation time-lines, decreased project risks and more powerful solutions as an increased range of interoperable O&M solutions components becomes available from multiple vendors. These core benefits will enable client O&M projects to move forward with a more predictable Return on Investment (ROI) and grow the total market for interoperable solutions components.

ARC study: 84% are very familiar with OPC

With the wide use of OPC, it might come as no surprise that many are familiar with related specifications. OPC Foundation announced Oct. 21 that it has commissioned ARC Advisory Group (Dedham, MA) to produce an OPC market awareness and OPC usage study. Click here to download the report , which is available on the OPC Foundation web site.

The first study was designed to determine OPC market awareness in the industrial and manufacturing market space. The second study is focused on past, present and future adoption of OPC technology. ARC Advisory Group research is expected to ”help the OPC Foundation management and membership plan key new initiatives,” said Craig Resnick, ARC Research Director.

OPC technology awareness is at an all time high, with 84% of respondents stating they are very familiar with OPC, ARC says. Other market trends indicate that OPC technology is now the preferred method of connectivity for 78% of production management and MES applications, 75% of HMI/SCADA applications, 68% of DCS/PLC applications, and 53% of ERP/Enterprise systems level applications. The research firm expects these trends to continue to grow higher over the next five years, increasing the percentages above and also expanding preferred connectivity to the subsystem, component, and sensor levels.

—Edited by Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering editor in chief,