If there was one big blinking neon light not to be missed from Hannover Messe this year it was: OPC UA. Like Karsten mentioned in PROFINEWS, it was everywhere -that and TSN.
But what is the subtext to be gleaned behind these technologies?
-EASE OF USE-
This is the holy-grail for all manufacturers, and is really driving so much of what went on at Hannover. Because manufacturers demand it, automation companies are being pushed to provide it. I heard it time and time again in the words people spoke, but not necessarily in the words that they wrote. ‘Ease of use’ is nice when commissioning a production line. And while significant, those are still only one-off costs. Once in production, what does ‘ease of use’ mean for a plant that is already running?
The issue mainly revolves around flexibility. Industrie 4.0 use-cases require flexibility in products, production techniques, and their processes. So how does a manufacturer strike a balance between flexibility and ‘ease of use’? That is exactly the problem automation providers are trying to solve with technologies like PROFINET, OPC UA, and TSN. These technologies make communication between devices more transparent, such that it can be taken for granted. If we can make running a plant easier, other opportunities for increased flexibility are revealed in the process.
That being said, PROFINET, OPC UA, and TSN have come a long way and still have a ways to go. OPC UA for example, having evolved from OPC Classic is growing easier to use by the day. Just look to the Github repos. TSN is still in its infancy, so questions remain as to what the result will be. There is still the possibility that TSN will not deliver on its promises, though I suspect with all the attention it’s being paid, it will. We too at PI are evolving. Not that long ago installing 100 devices on a network was cumbersome with 100s of wires, terminal blocks, etc. Then it became simpler with PROFIBUS, but you still had to worry about repeaters and termination resistors. Now with Ethernet, it’s easier than ever, plus it’s the same Ethernet employed in the IT world.
The next step is to get to the point where the combination of PROFINET, OPC UA, and TSN converge seamlessly on the same network. PROFINET handles I/O control, data access, diagnostics, application profiles, uptime, predictive maintenance, safety and much more. OPC UA handles information modeling and cloud connectivity. Meanwhile, TSN provides determinism at levels above field device level. Much of the chatter at Hannover was about just these concepts, and how they can enable easier-to-run factories that eventually beget the flexibility defined in Industrie 4.0 use-cases.