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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.

Brother can you spare $10 Billion?

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Reports like this “GM burns $10 billion in 1st quarter as deadline looms” really highlight the crunch manufacturers are facing these days.  The more cuts and layoffs that hit means the more people left behind to do more with less with an increased focus on the bottom line. Productivity, energy usage, project implementation, process execution, etc. all must be made more effective. These pressures often mean that automation picks up pace faster than during periods of economic growth. With increased automation means increased need for system connectivity, and OPC.

 

There are a lot of automation folks out there trying to figure out the best, fastest and smartest way to do their job. Is OPC part of that thinking?

 

Lack of Access to Data Hinders Competitiveness for Pulp & Paper Company  (Sound familiar?)

Look before You Leap: Implementing Successful OPC Projects  (Need any OPC implementation advice?)

5 OPC Questions Integrators Need To Ask  (Never hurts to ask questions)

 

Are you a MIP?

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Where would the computer and engineering world be without Three Letter Acronyms (TLAs)?  For one thing we wouldn’t have OPC.  Actually according to the all knowing Wikipeida, OPC is technically an initialism (i.e., all the letters are pronounced as letters) as opposed to meeting the true definition of acronym (which requires it to be pronounced as a single word, as in DOS). Now that I think of it, OPC doesn’t really fit initialism either since the letters of OPC don’t really stand for anything anymore.  But I digress…

The TLA I’m talking about today is MIP, which stands for the MatrikonOPC Integrators Program.  Often the people on the front line of OPC implementations are system integrators and the folks at MatrikonOPC realize that while data connectivity represents a fraction of integrators project scope, it also poses a disproportionate project risk due to the inherent difficulty of establishing multi-vendor communications.  When faced with OPC challenges, integrators need a better plan than a skyward plea of ‘Oh Please Connect’ to the fickle gods of connectivity.  Based on years of OPC expertise and countless projects supporting integrators, MatrikonOPC is offering MIPs an alternative that provides:

·          optimal data connectivity architectures

·          the right connectivity software and utilities

·          experienced live support

·          comprehensive OPC sales and technical training

·          other good stuff

 

Now since there are only 17,576 possible TLA’s (24,336 if you allow the last ‘letter’ to be a number) there are bound to be multiple meanings for a TLA.  Therefore MIP is not to be confused with Mortgage Insurance Program.  (I bet a lot of people out there are wishing they thought of that before the whole credit crisis meltdown).  I suppose you can consider joining the MIP program as a type of insurance against having your OPC projects go south on you. If your project involves advanced OPC concepts like redundancy, guaranteed data delivery or security, it’s nice to have someone to discuss all the options with BEFORE you’re on-site and behind the eight-ball at crunch time.

 

The gamers out there (or those high-falutin’ Latin speakers) will recognize MIP as standing for the Latin “multum in parvo” or literally “much in little”.  Typically this refers to increasing granularity the resolution of texture maps, but the “much in little” theme works for the MIP program too.  Think of it as getting a whole lot of value for relatively little input or it could mean the increasing levels of support through the Silver, Gold and Platinum options.

 

I don’t know if the powers that be have decided if the MIP program is an initialism like V.I.P or acronym that rhymes with hip.  I’ll leave that up to you to choose. Regardless of how you think of it, it sounds like a good thing to me. I’ll sign off with a little food for thought on TLA’s from author Douglas Adams who remarked: “The World Wide Web is the only thing I know of whose shortened form takes three times longer to say than what it’s short for.”  Think about it.

More on OPC and Energy Management

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Is it just me, or is OPC gaining a whole lot of momentum in building automation and energy management applications?  I’ve posted before on Green Data Centers and how some big companies are getting more serious about energy management.  For example for IBM’s Project Big Green initiative the company has committed $1 billion per year to deliver technologies that help customers increase energy efficiency in their data centers and physical plants.  Recently IBM has announced new software designed to help customers reduce costs associated with power and cooling.   IBM is combining the new energy management software with partner solutions to provide customers with a comprehensive view of energy consumption across the enterprise — not just in data centers but also in non-IT assets such as air conditioning equipment, power distribution units, lighting, and security systems.

In response to a posting on OPC being used in major building automation projects, I got a comment about the Mori Tower project.   The new headquarters at Mori Tower in central Tokyo, occupies 11.6 hectares, and is one of the largest redevelopment projects undertaken in Japan. One of the key objectives was to implement a flexible system for centralized monitoring and control of multiple facilities.  As the Mori Tower has significant numbers of areas to be controlled, it was decided to choose an open method of communications based on the OPC standard.  Good choice :)    This particular article talks about accessing Citect with OPC, but of course you can always directly access the building automation systems as well.

With summer getting into full swing, the long weekends approaching, and both the thermometers and prices at the pump soaring, now’s a real good time to think about solutions to save.

OPC and Integrators

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

There has been a lot of focus lately on providing system integrators with more tools, services and training on OPC topics.  As OPC becomes more prevalent and systems grow in size and complexity more and more system integrators and distributors are implementing OPC systems. 

I’ve blogged before on the new OPC Foundation membership option is called the SI&D category.  The SI&D membership is intended to provide a mechanism to facilitate the system integrators and distributors being able to design, develop and certify custom software.

OPC vendors also recognize that integrators have to deal with various suppliers of automation applications like PLCs, DCSs, sensors, end devices, production equipment, safety systems, etc. Project implementers know that even though data connectivity is a small part of the project scope, it can be a huge project risk due to the inherent difficulty of establishing multi-vendor communications.   Some vendors now offer more than just a wide selection of OPC connectivity to integrators.  Partnerships like the MatrikonOPC Integrator Program offer data connectivity services like: initial communication architecture design, connectivity software options and implementation support and training.

Programs such as these are a response the belief that end-users expect that system integrators should increase their proficiency of the use of the OPC technology. I’d like to hear your thoughts on system integrators.  From the integrators: Will you become an SI&D member? Do you see value in partnering with vendors with OPC expertise?  From the end-users: Does SI&D membership or participation in an Integrator Program affect who you would choose as the system integrator on your next project?

Critical Thinking in Engineering OPC

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

I often follow the forums on Globalspec.com, and this latest thread that asks the question “Where is the Critical Thinking in Engineering” caught my eye.  One of the posters follows up with several good questions to ponder…

·         Where is the critical thinking?

·         What is the role of critical thinking in Engineering as a profession?

·         Where does it come from in the development of a competent engineer or technical specialist? Is it taught? Demonstrated, or merely stumbled upon?

This particular topic is referring to Engineering as a whole, and sprouted from the originating topic of a dubious perpetual motion machine patent.  (Let’s not talk patents, shall we).  The subject matter got me thinking about the role of ‘critical thinking’ in OPC architectures.  There has been a lot of news lately focusing on OPC certification, the independent test labs and interoperability testing.  That’s all great stuff, since you can’t build a good OPC network without robust building blocks, but a good network also demands good thinking.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; a solid, interoperable OPC network requires informed input from those that know and work with OPC.  With more OPC UA products hitting the market everyday, this is becoming even more important.    Regardless of what OPC flavor you are using, you need to be working with a trusted vendor who understands your requirements and has the products and services to meet your needs.   OPC has done amazing things with leveling the playing field for system interoperability.  However, no protocol, technology or product can remove the planning and understanding needed in creating industrial strength connections between different systems. 

The OPC Foundation and its members know this to be true, and are working on things to make it easier for end users find these knowledgeable vendors.  On the OPC Foundation front, the creation of the ‘SI&D (System Integrators and Distributors) category is a first step.   On the vendor, initiatives like the MatrikonOPC Integrator Program are designed to ensure system integrators have access to the necessary OPC architecture and design experts, products, training and supported for successful project implementation.  It’s all about education and communication on what works and how OPC fits best in your system.  (Without this, you have people getting the wrong impression like those Carl recently posted on.)

Where is the critical thinking in terms of OPC?  It’s with those that know and work with OPC every day.  Where does it come from?  Is it taught?  Demonstrated or stumbled upon?  In a word…  Yes.