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Archive for the 'Industrial Applications' Category

On Siemens, SCADA and Security

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Anyone following the usual Industrial Automation blogs and news will have heard about the cybersecurity threats against Siemens WinCC and PCS7 platform. Among others, Control Global has an article, and Gary Mintchell has been following it closely on his blog. While this doesn’t specifically apply to OPC, it definitely affects the overall industrial automation space. From the reports coming in, it appears to be an ‘industrial espionage’ attack targeting Siemens, but makes use of a Windows vulnerability that is present on systems from XP to Windows 7. This particular variation uses a default password to access the WinCC database. Since all major control system vendors have systems that run on Microsoft platforms, it would not be surprising to see different variations of this crop up. The good news is that work arounds are available and patches will be forthcoming.

This should serve as a warning and reminder that users MUST consider security as an essential part of their control system planning. This includes OPC data communications. There are many options available to ensure your OPC products work well within your overall security architecture: OPC Security 1.0 Specification aware products, OPC Security Gateways, OPC Tunneller, etc.

Check out the OPC Security information section or read a whitepaper for more details on creating secure OPC architectures.

Learn more about OPC in the City of Lakes

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

The OPC Foundation’s next roadshow seminar for End-Users and System Integrators, on June 23rd in Minneapolis, the City of Lakes. The event will be held at the Minneapolis Marriott Southwest, 5801 Opus Parkway, Minnetonka, MN 55343; ph. 952-935-5500. The program will begin with a continental breakfast and registration at 8:00 a.m. followed by program start at 8:30 a.m. To register for this event, please click here. Hotel information and directions can be found here.

Some fine folks from MatrikonOPC will there to help you learn more about OPC technology, including OPC Classic, OPC Xi and OPC UA. OPC is the automation industry plug and play standard. Drop by our booth, have a conversation and learn how OPC provides efficient data exchange and moves information from the plant floor to the enterprise.

If you are in the area, come on down and have a look.  If you are unable to attend but still want to learn more about OPC, there are many great, free OPC webinars available.  Here is the most current list of free OPC webinar topics.

Blogging, Business and OPC

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Boy, has it really been that long since I put up a post?  You get busy with the day to day grind, and say to yourself, ‘I’ll get one up by Tuesday, and realize it is Thursday already’.  I’m sure we all have something we know we should be making more time for during our work week; filing those overdue reports, re-certifying those work safety requirements, taking that on-line OPC training course you’ve been meaning to do.  If it is important than it’s important to find the time to get it done.

 

I took some time to catch up on some marketing reading, including this posting on ‘What’s working in marketing’.  It’s a great podcast featuring Gary Mintchell and Walt Boyes. If you listen to the section on blogging, you’ll of course hear Gary’s admonishment at my recent remiss in blogging.  He quoted me quite correctly as saying ‘There’s blogging and there’s business’, but it’s high time I get back to the ‘business of blogging’.

 

Walt and Gary talk about the power of blogs to get breaking news and information out.  There has been a lot of things happening in OPC these days, that is blog worthy including the next upcoming OPC Foundation Roadshow.

 

MatrikonOPC will be at the next OPC Technical Seminar , on April 29, 2010 at the Fremont Marriott Silicon Valley, in Fremont, CA .  There is still time to register, if you haven’t already, and you’re going to be in the area.  Feel free to drop by the MatrikonOPC booth, and learn more about OPC and how it can help your business.  For those on the other side of the globe, you can check out the Matrikon User Conference in Koln, Germany.  The OPC track includes talks on OPC UA StreamInsight, secure data architectures and much more.

 

I encourage everyone to take the opportunity to attend these events.  If you can’t find the time to make the trip, you might still want to read more on how OPC can be configured to limit access so that users can only see the tags they really need to: ‘OPC Access on a Need to Know Basis’

OPC Top Honors – 2010 Control Readers’ Choice Awards

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

The results are in for the 2010 Control Readers’ Choice Awards. This annual survey of brand preference among suppliers of process automation technologies, represent the collective opinion of more than 1,000 process automation professionals. Those surveyed include the print magazine’s U.S.-centric readership as well as subscribers to their increasingly international digital media outlets anchored at their website ControlGlobal.com.  Here’s the most interesting section of the article. IMHO.

“Closely complementing our Readers Choice Awards across the range of essential process automation disciplines are the Readers Choice Awards for specific software competencies.”

”New to the Readers Choice Awards this year is the category of OPC Connectivity Software. Matrikon took top honors in the category

This is a double pleasure in that, OPC was recognized as an essential process automation discipline, and the validation of MatrikonOPC’s commitment to reliable, secure OPC connectivity. Thanks to all those that voted to show their support.

If you want to try out any of those ‘top choice’ OPC products, you can find them here. :)

An OPC Year in Review – 2009

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

I’ve been very remiss of late on getting blog posts up.  That will be my number one resolution for the coming year.  To make up for the lack of posts recently, I thought I’d do a recap of some of the noteworthy OPC happenings of 2009. This year saw a lot of activity from the OPC Foundation, particularly in regards to OPC adoption.

 

Early in the year saw OPC UA meet a major international standardization milestone when the Committee Drafts of Parts 1-6 & 8 of IEC 62541 (the international version of the OPC Unified Architecture specifications) were approved.  Shortly afterwards was the Final Release of Unified Architecture Phase I Deliverables.  New released versions of Parts 1-8 of the OPC UA specifications, along with matching UA SDK and sample code was made available for members to download.  This, along with additional SDK updates through the year and the launch of the OPC Foundation Blog for Developers and creation of the Accelerated Adoption Working group helped paved the way for many new OPC UA products. 

Autumn 2009 saw several other OPC UA initiatives such as the release of the OPC UA For Devices Companion and Analyser Devices Companion Releases, as well as the OPC UA For IEC 61131-3 Companion Specification  release candidate from the PLCopen/OPC Foundation Joint Working Group (PLC). Several OPC vendors now offer OPC UA support, either as an OPC UA wrapper or native OPC UA support like the MatrikonOPC Universal Connectivity Server (UCS).

 

OPC adoption also got a boost from the announcement that the OPC Express Interface (Xi) was added to the OPC Foundation technology portfolio, complementing OPC UA and COM-based OPC Classic. OPC Xi’s primary objective is to provide a .NET-based migration path from OPC Classic. Additionally, OPC Xi may be used as a standard .NET WCF interface for newly developed OPC servers.  Expect to see more products supporting OPC Xi in the coming year. 

 

All in all, an very good year for OPC.

 

Although 2009 was a tough year for many companies MatrikonOPC had its share of good OPC news.   Major advancements on the core OPC Framework technology lead to had several product milestone achievements including reaching OPC Foundation Gold Level Independent Certification, achieving Wurldtech Achilles Certification and most recently enrollment in the Honeywell PKS Advantage program.  These framework advancements along with the OPC UA implementations culminate in our newest product offering the MatrikonOPC Universal Connectivity Server (UCS).   There will be much more to talk about on UCS as 2010 unfolds.

 

Technology investments were not the only growth this year.  MatrikonOPC expanded its reach opening regional offices in Brisbane and the United Kingdom.  This global presence allows MatrikonOPC to offer ‘round the clock’ OPC support, which plays a major role in the offerings provided by the Partnership programs such as the MatrikonOPC Integrator Program (MIP) and the MatrikonOPC Vendor Partner program.  Clearly customers recognize the value in our commitment to OPC, since the year also as had exciting business news.  These included the Shell’s global standardization on MatrikonOPC connectivity and the collaborative agreement with Siemens Industry, plus many others joining the Partner programs.

 

With the horizon looking brighter from an economic point of view, it bodes well for an even more exciting 2010 for OPC. 

 

P.S.  Don’t forget to check out the newly updated OPC Tutorial video.

New OPC Micro Historian

Friday, September 25th, 2009

What is an Engineer’s favorite software tool? It has got to be Excel.  When I worked as a Project Engineer I had spreadsheets for everything!  Reports, graphs, data manipulation, text parsing. I’ve even had a flight simulator.  Excel is a great tool for analyzing and manipulating data, so it’s no surprise that there are OPC based products that help get data into Excel.

What I learned the hard way, is what Excel is not great at… storing data.  It was manageable when I was only producing information for myself. I had a set naming format for the filenames, sheets and columns, so I could keep track of what data was coming from where, and from what time frame.  But once I had to start sharing the data out to other members of the project team, managers or end client reports things went down hill fast. Data getting changed in one version but not the other, ‘multiple versions of the truth’, missing or renamed files, and other fun problems.  

Of course the right answer is to separate the data from the information.  Use Excel as the reporting and analysis tool, and store the data in a correct repository, like a historian.  Which is why the release of the MatrikonOPC Micro Historian is such great news.  Light-weight, simple to use and cheap. No wonder it’s called ‘a historian for the rest of us’ J.  Of course you get data in and out of it using OPC, with full support for both OPC DA and HDA, otherwise I won’t be talking about it.

So for all those engineer’s out there with their data files in an ‘Excel of a Mess’, give the datasheet a look.

And before anyone comments, of course the answer to what is an Engineer’s favorite tool would be duct tape.

OPC on the Road

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

As Gary said in a recent post on tradeshow tips, this the event and conference season.  That means I’ll be on the road again spreading the OPC message.  This year I’ll be attending Emerson Exchange, ISA Expo and Rockwell’s Automation Fair.  Other MatrikonOPC folks will be showing up at Invensys OpsManage as well as globe trotting to tradeshow events in China, Indonesia and the Honeywell HUG in Portugal.  OPC’s reach is global!

At Emerson Exchange I will be presenting on managing risk when implementing OPC projects.  I have speaking slots Wednesday at 9:00 and Thursday at 10:00.  If you’re at the event, I’d encourage you to drop by, and if you can’t you can read all about it in the whitepaper Look before You Leap: Implementing Successful OPC Projects.

ISA Expo has always been a popular event for the OPC Foundation and its members, and this year is no different. I will be parked in Booth# 1335 with a few of the other MatrikonOPC folks.  Drop on by for a conversation or three on OPC.

Hope to see you all there.

Free OPC Alarms and Events Tool

Friday, August 28th, 2009

The ever popular free OPC tool, the MatrikonOPC Explorer now has support of the OPC Alarms and Events specification.  Being able to test connections to OPC A&E servers from the familiar OPC Explorer tool has been something that people have been wanting for some time now, and it’s finally here.  You can download the MatrikonOPC A&E Explorer here.

 

There is support for all the expected OPC A&E client functionality:  Simple, Conditional and Tracking filtering, Severity and Category filtering as well as update throttling.  This is all in addition to all the other features that OPC Explorer already offers such as interface checking, support for OPC Security, launching server configurations, and all the other good stuff.

 

Now all those people out there using the MatrikonOPC Alarms and Events Server for Real Time Data, can monitor the generated OPC A&E Events, and the underlying OPC DA Server with the same tool J

UA Service is Broken

Friday, June 12th, 2009

I’m talking about the service (or lack thereof) provided by United Air on my recent trip to the OPC Expo.  (Shame you if you thought I was talking about OPC UA Services.  They are of course robust, reliable and secure. OPC UA is definitely not broken J )

I’m usually not a ‘ranter’ by nature, but I recently watched saw the video of Seth Godin’s talk “This is Broken” and this experience comes hard on the heels of my last air travel experience.  Here’s the story

 

<rant>  My flight to San Jose involved a connection in Denver.  When I checked in at Edmonton I was told ‘all connections out of Denver are on-time’ (this was at 3:00 pm).  As we began our extremely turbulent approach into Denver around 5:00 pm they announced the San Jose flight would be leaving from gate 15, but please check the monitors for conformation. All well and good so far.

Upon arriving at the airport we all dutifully checked the monitors to find that none of the departure gate information had been updated since around 12:00 that afternoon, and many of the flights listed had been delayed (primarily due to the Tornado like weather patterns we rollercoaster-ed through on the way in).  None of this info seems to be sent to incoming planes or departure cites, who brightly tell you everything is running on-time.  Broken.

 

The information monitors had obviously been down for 5 hours.  There were no personnel available at the monitors to give passengers information or direct them to manned service desks or information centers.  Broken.

Lacking any better info, I headed to gate 15 as announced on my incoming flight.  Gate 15 was waiting to board a delayed flight to Oakland, and the desk personnel only knew the San Jose flight was not leaving from this gate, but could not say what gate it was supposed to leave from.  Broken.   I randomly choose a check-in desk along the concourse and waited in line to find the San Jose flight would depart Gate 38 at 8:30  (it was supposed to be a 6:45 departure).  No reason was given (Broken) but everyone assumed it was weather related.  We can’t control the weather, so we settled in to wait out the delay.

 

15 minutes past our posted boarding time, the gate announced the in bound plane was delayed but would arrive in 15 minutes, be serviced and ready to board. Yeah. The plane pulls up to the gate, passengers are disembarking, everyone starts packing up to board.  8:35 the gate announces.  The flight from San Jose will NOT depart from Gate 38, it has been moved to Gate 57!!!!  Please go there now to board.  End of transmission.  So VERY broken.

 

The sheep herd shuffles angrily to our THIRD gate of the day.  Gate 57 displays San Jose. Yeah.  No one is boarding. 20 minutes later a new announcement.  “Maintenance crew is still working on the oil pressure problem, and will make a decision at 9:30”. End of transmission. SO un-freaking-believably Broken.  ‘Still working on the oil pressure problem?’  What oil problem? My connection has been delayed almost 3 hours now and why are we not boarding the plane at gate 38? What does ‘make a decision’ mean? What is the alternative here?  The Staff leave the service desk.  Broken.

9:30 comes.  No announcement.  No desk staff.  Broken.  9:45 the phone rings repeatly at the service desk.  9:50 a new announcement.  “Maintenance crew is still working.  A new decision will be made at 10:30”.  Need I say Broken?  Is it realistic to believe they will fix the problem they have been working on presumably for hours in the next 15 minutes?  Do I want to fly on a plane with an ‘under pressure’ fix? Is a new plane coming?  Broken.

 

10:45 we see the plane roll away from the gate. No announcement.  11:00 a new plane rolls in.  (Obviously the decision was made a while back, but no one though to inform the muttering, exasperated crowd in the waiting room.)  Finally an announcement.  We have a plane, and will begin boarding immediately. We will endeavor to get you underway as soon as possible.  Weak cheer from the room.  Everyone scurries to line up (being a pessimist I keep reading in my ‘comfy’ chair).  10 minutes go by and no one has been allowed to board yet.  Give me a B. Give me a R…..

 

New announcement.  “The original seating chart was for an Airbus 319.  This plane is a Airbus 320 and the seat do not match exactly.  We can not board until we receive the new seating chart.  Hopefully it will only take a few minutes”.  I-am-now-climbing-the-bell-tower-Broken.   Could you not keep track of seats with a blank piece of paper and a Sharpie!!!.  

Another 10 minutes go by, and they begin calling passengers to the front desk for their new seat assignments.  At 11:45 pm my 6:45 connection left Denver.

 

Decending into San Jose, an announcement was made that they were sorry for the delay and said that we could go on line to www.united.com/appreciation and choose a gift to best suit our needs.  As I watched people fumbling for pens or looking thoughtfully to the ceiling trying to memorize the URL, all I could think to myself was… Broken.  Could you not have a flyer, business card… a sticky note with that generic info on it?

 

When I finally got the time to go on-line, use Google to find the UA site (it’s united.com not unitedair.com), misspell ‘appriecation’ and be told the website has been reorganized and the page does not exist I finally found the entry site.  After the page froze up and crashed on me three times.   I got to experience one more time how Broken service can be.

</rant>

 

If you’re still with me after that tirade.  Let me share some thoughts on how vitally important good customer service is for any business, particularly in today’s environment.  Here are a couple of e-mails that have crossed my desk about our MatrikonOPC support staff in the last couple of weeks.

 

“<Customer Name> and the Project team are very grateful for the amazing support you and everyone at Matrikon have provided us.  We couldn’t of been happier with the quality of support that both Chris and Jeff provided us.  For a multitude of reasons we were in a very difficult position with the state of the OPC architecture between our Servers, both Chris and Jeff did an excellent job of using their expertise with the Matrikon products and with OPC in general to come up with a solution to fix the architecture , implement that solution, and then to convince the customer that we were implementing the correct solution. “

 

“Working on the first activities of our program implementation, we have had issues connecting our <operations> platform to the Historian and therefore have contacted your support in Europe.

It is unusual to send this but I wanted to inform you that we were impressed by the quality of support and high professional expertise we received from your colleague, Heiko.

The quality of his intervention has not only helped us resolve our current connection problem quickly, but has also comforted us in the choice we made to purchase Historian components for our <project> exclusively from Matrikon.”

 

A far cry from the “God, I hate this airline” , “I swear I am NEVER flying this airline again” and “<Dripping Sarcasm> Imagine that… A United Air flight that’s delayed”  I overhead during my extended layover in Denver.

 

Choosing a product or service is a whole lot more than product features or price.  Knowing that you will taken care of before, during and after your decision to buy is extremely important to all of us.  I’m glad I work for an OPC vendor that knows and embraces that.  

 

Got an OPC question?  Or even a question on connectivity or another vendors product?  You can probably find the answer at our MatrikonOPC Support portal, and if not someone can find out for you.

OPC in SmartGrid Security and Building Automation

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Just got back from the OPC Expo at Connectivity Week in Santa Clara.  It was a good opportunity to have some good conversations on a wide range of topics.  Some great presentations on how OPC, in particular OPC UA, fits into the SmartGrid story and plays in the building automation space.  One of the hot topics around connecting the grid is of course security, and the presentation by Tyler Williams of Wurldtech on their Achilles Industrial Cyber Security Certification Program generated some good discussions.  This is the Achilles certification program that our MatrikonOPC products are following.  As SmartGrid rolls out, the focus on communications security will become increasingly important.

I spent a lot of time talking with folks on the exhibit floor.  MatrikonOPC shared a booth with Cimetrics, whom we partnered with for the development of our OPC Server for BACnet.  What I did find surprising at the conference, is how many folks in the building automation space are still unaware of OPC and all that it offers.  Many of the larger vendors certainly know of OPC, and anyone who’s business models span across industry verticals are on board, but the message needs better penetration at the ‘grass roots’ level.  I suspect this lack is mainly due to the image of OPC as a ‘Microsoft’ technology. As OPC UA continues to gain adoption, the cross-platform and web service aspects of the architecture will begin to resound more in this area.

 

In the meantime, those in the building automation space that ARE aware of OPC have a leg up in connecting their applications to the enterprise, using solutions like those outlined in Extending Building Automation Data Visibility Using OPC.  OPC awareness in this space is growing rapidly, and with more OPC UA products coming out every day, and increased focus on energy optimization expect the pace to get even quicker. 

 

If you are one of those folks standing still, you might want to think about getting a move on to OPC J