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OPC and EtherCat agree to link their systems

24 April, 2015

The OPC Foundation and the EtherCat Technology Group (ETG) have agreed to develop open interfaces between their technologies. At the recent Hannover Fair, OPC Foundation president Tom Burke and ETG executive director Martin Rostan signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to co-operate on developing these interfaces, rather than each developing technology extensions into the other’s core areas.

The OPC Foundation also announced at the Fair that it is making its OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) specifications and technology available to companies, consortiums, and end-users who are not members of the Foundation. It hopes that this “open shared source” strategy will help the technology to be adopted in areas beyond industrial automation. 

The OPC Foundation and ETG say that their technologies complement each other “perfectly”, with EtherCat offering hard real-time communications for machines and factory control systems, while OPC UA provides scalable communication with integrated security up to MES / ERP systems and into the cloud.

“We regard OPC UA as an ideal extension for our technologies,” says Rostan. “EtherCat is, and will stay, the technology of choice for high real-time requirements and, particularly, lean implementation. OPC UA provides a service-oriented architecture (SOA) with authentication and secure communication into the cloud and to MES systems. Both standards are open and internationally recognised. Combined, they are complete, and as such we look forward to the common interface specification.”

“OPC UA has established itself as standard technology for incorporating fieldbus systems in Industry 4.0 and IoT environments,” adds Burke. “With EtherCat Technology Group, one of the leading industrial Ethernet technology organisations – specifically, the one with the most members globally – has decided for OPC UA. The co-operation between both organisations will soon lead to mature interface definitions, in the way they are being requested by users.”

Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT) need continuous communications through all layers and levels in the digital factory, as well as externally through cloud-based services and other Internet technologies. The ETG and the OPC Foundation are hoping defining open interfaces between their technologies will help to satisfy these needs.

ETG executive director Martin Rostan and OPC Foundation president Tom Burke at the Hannover signing ceremony

The ETG’s technical committee decided in October 2014 to use OPC UA to link EtherCat with cloud systems and the IT world. “Development thus far has proved this to be the correct choice,” says Rostan, “and we look forward to collaborating in the creation of mutually-beneficial definitions of the common interfaces.”

“OPC UA does not compete with fieldbuses,” Burke points out. “It seeks to enable the consistent, safe, and scalable communication of such systems into the IT world. Thanks to the common development of interfaces between both our associations, we expect quick and practice-oriented results.”

The OPC Foundation says that its new open shared-source strategy, also announced at Hannover, will provide developers working outside of industrial automation with a jump-start, making it easier for them to prototype projects.

“OPC Foundation’s vision of working with other consortiums to develop OPC UA companion specifications for their information models requires a strategy of opening the doors to the OPC Foundation and providing the specifications and technology with a license that increases awareness and evangelism,” explains Burke. “OPC Foundation members benefit from the licensing structure that allows them to build quality interoperable OPC products and then to certify their products using the Foundation certification program.”

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