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Specification will make it easier for smart factories to talk

16 March, 2016

Two organisations working to standardise smart factory operations – the OPC Foundation and AutomationML – have released a specification intended to make it easier to achieve interoperability in future factories.

A joint working group of the two organisations, which has been working on this topic since 2014, has released the Automation ML for OPC UA specification, which describes how to model AutomationML-based information sets using the OPC-UA information model, and how to transmit them.

Combining AutomationML with OPC UA makes it possible to communicate engineering data containing information about the status of, for example, a conveyor as well as its abilities – potentially resulting in “smarter” factories. Furthermore, the OPC UA system configuration can be transferred to AutomationML models. This can reduce manual engineering effort and provide new possibilities to deal with and analyse smart data – for use in predictive maintenance, for example.

“Plug-and-work is possible if we combine the description of items within production systems by AutomationML, the provision of this description in an OPC UA information model, and the secured communication of this information via OPC-UA,” explains Dr-Ing Miriam Schleipen from Fraunhofer IOSB, who heads the working group. “Interoperability and the seamless semantic integration become reality.”

Industry 4.0 and the factory of the future will require devices, machines, controllers and IT systems from different vendors to interoperate with each other. Not only must they be able to talk to each other, but also that they must also understand what each other are saying. OPC UA deals with the communication aspects, AutomationML with the content interpretation.

OPC UA is a family of technologies from the OPC Foundation intended to exchange information between different control systems on different layers in a standardised way. It provides an advanced and widely used system for connecting field control devices with higher control layers.

AutomationML is a data exchange standard (IEC 62714) for engineering data. It provides a family of standards to make engineering tools interoperable, thus cutting costs for data exchange, and transforming data from one engineering tool for use by another.

Version 1.00.00 of the AutomationML for OPC UA specification and corresponding node sets and examples can be downloaded from the OPC Foundation’s Web site.

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