IoT Leaders Commit to OPC-UA Adoption for Edge-to-Cloud Applications

March 03, 2022 by Stephanie Leonida

Big players in the tech industry providing artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions to the industrial automation sector are committing to OPC-UA adoption to enhance interoperability.

The OPC Foundation is a world-leading community of vendors, users, and consortia that work together to create and maintain data transfer standards for industrial automation and other industries. This makes the exchange of valuable data much more secure and reliable for devices and systems such as industrial control systems and process control. OPC stands for Open Platform Communications and is considered to be one of the most important communication protocols for Industry 4.0 and the internet of things (IoT). Recently, the OPC Foundation announced that leading IoT vendors are committing to the integration of OPC-unified architecture (OPC-UA) technology into their edge-to-cloud applications. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, IBM, Microsoft, SAP, and Siemens are among the industry players that are taking on this interoperability-enhancing endeavor.


OPC-AU Overview

OPC-UA Allows a unified approach for data ingestion and digitization. Image used courtesy of The OPC Foundation


OPC-UA for Industrial Automation

OPC-UA is an open standard for interoperability between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) networks. The OPC-UA framework consists of four layers: the data model, the transport protocol, the network protocol, and the application interface. The framework has been designed to be scalable and extensible to support the future needs of industry.

The OPC-UA specification was developed by the OPC Foundation as part of its initiative to provide a unified architecture for industrial automation, encompassing both IT and OT networks. The need for this standard arose because there are many different types of industrial automation systems, each with its proprietary protocol, which made it difficult to integrate them into one system.

The transport agnostic, IEC standard supports two different communications patterns: Client/Server (over e.g. Transmission Control Protocol, TCP or WebSockets) as well as Publish/Subscribe (over e.g. User Datagram Protocol, UDP or MQTT) to meet different industry requirements from the production systems to edge and cloud scenarios.

MQTT is an open-source publish/subscribe messaging protocol. It is designed to work with unreliable network environments, so it requires less bandwidth than other protocols such as TCP or HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP). OPC-UA provides a way for devices from different vendors to communicate with each other and is not limited to just one type of device or system, unlike MQTT which can only be used on IT and OT networks and does not support interoperability. OPC-UA Information Models (IMs) have been made available to all cloud applications through the UA Cloud Library. This means that cloud applications can utilize OPC UA-based semantic information and access live data from the edge.

IoT Leaders Supporting OPC-UA

In a recent news release, the Managing Director of Manufacturing Industry Solutions at AWS, Sanat Joshi, said, “AWS understands the complexity of industrial data connectivity and the challenges manufacturers and industrial customers face implementing IIoT and Industry 4.0 applications. This is why AWS has a portfolio of services that extend cloud functionality into industrial operations to provide industrial edge capability.” Using purpose-built gateways, machine data using this OPC-UA format can be ingested into one or more AWS apps for processing, allowing the design of dashboards and algorithms for increasing machine efficiency and productivity.


Cloud network

Cloud computing gathers data from various sources, unifying the data in a central processing location. Image used courtesy of Pixabay


In the same news release, the Global Technical Director for Google Cloud’s Manufacturing Industry solutions vertical, Charlie Sheridan, commented, “Google Cloud is committed to openness and industry collaboration.” In a similar manner to AWS, the could-based library developed by OPC-UA allows machine data to be uploaded and processed by Google Cloud services, and for apps to be developed by customers and partners.

Other IoT vendors including Beckoff and IBM have both expressed the growing need for a more secure and standardized way of connecting industrial assets and improving interoperability. The wider adoption of OPC-UA by top-level vendors like AWS, Google Cloud, and Beckhoff (to name a few) is sure to provide a larger ecosystem of highly connected industrial settings and digital environments, which, will progress together through unified communication through this digital age.