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Industry groups join forces to work on IIoT standards

31 August, 2016

Three automation industry groups – Omac (the Organisation for Machine Automation and Control), the OPC Foundation, and PLCopen – have joined forces to help advance the communications protocols needed for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The organisations develop and promote standards to improve manufacturing efficiency, but until now they have been working in parallel on different aspects of automation standardisation.

Interoperability between devices and machines that use different protocols is a challenge to achieving the full potential of the IIoT. By collaborating on companion specifications to the standards and protocols that they have already developed, Omac, OPC Foundation, and PLCopen believe they can advance the quality and efficiency of data sharing and communication at the machine and production line and up through the enterprise.

They say that their work will align with the goal of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) to identify and define building blocks for interoperability that will make smart factories and IIoT possible.

“Standards are needed to support communications from machine-to-machine and from the plant floor to interfaces that will allow large-scale data analytics and information transfer,” explains John Kowal, a member of Omac’s board of directors, and co-chair of the IIC’s smart factory task group. “It just makes sense for these organisations, which have individually done so much to advance automated manufacturing, to collaborate and avoid redundant developments.”

For example, one of Omac’s major initiatives has been to promote the ISA-TR88.00.02 automation standard, commonly known as PackML. The second generation was released last year. Manufacturers and machine-builders worldwide have implemented ISA-TR88 on various control platforms to boost production speeds, ease packaging line integration, and improve reliability. While PackML defines machine modes, states and tag-naming conventions, it does not specify a communications protocol.

The OPC Foundation’s Unified Architecture (OPC UA) is an industrial interoperability framework. It provides information modelling with built-in security, access rights, and the communication layers needed to provide plug-and-play machine-to-machine (M2M) communication in factories. It is scalable across the plant floor and from sensors to enterprise IT systems and the cloud.

OPC and PLCopen have recently been working together to define a set of function blocks to map the IEC 61131-3 global standard for controls programming to the OPC UA information communication model. The standard is recommended by Omac in its Packaging Guidelines document.

To take their efforts to the next level, Omac and the OPC Foundation have established a task force to develop a companion specification for ISA-TR88/PackML and OPC UA by the end of 2016. The task force includes Omac and OPC Foundation members from around the world.

“A standard communication protocol, used consistently across the industry, is vital for realising the full benefits of automation standards such as ISA-TR88, which then can be a valuable data source for smart factories and the IIoT,” says Omac chairman, Dr Bryan Griffen. “A companion specification between ISA TR88 and OPC UA fills this need and builds on the work completed with PLCopen earlier this year. The opportunities to transform manufacturing as hardware and software solutions are integrated through consistently applied, standardised protocols are extraordinary. We’re pleased to be a part of those efforts worldwide.”

“Today, there is more reason than ever to believe that communications standards will proliferate, as the IIoT drives the need to flatten network communication architectures,” adds OPC Foundation director, Tom Burke. “Along with organisations like Omac and PLCopen, we’re actively engaged to do just that.”

PLCopen managing director Eelco van der Wal says that “by collaborating and ensuring the standards we’ve developed work together, we ensure transparent and fully secured communication right out-of-the-box with standardised access between any OPC client and server via a secure channel, independent from network architecture and protocol or machine type and controls”. 

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