Flexibility is crucial for a marketable standard
Dr. Alexander Broos is Director of Research and Technology at VDW. He explains the global challenges that need to be overcome in implementing a uniform OPC standard.
Dr. Broos, what is the current status of umati?
We're basically working on umati 1.0 right now. This will then evolve, as software usually does in practical use cases. At some point there will be umati 1.1 or umati 2.0. Getting to that point is a complex process in terms of standardisation. Basically this means reacting to changes, if necessary by releasing an update. And we have to decide what backward compatibility to incorporate.
To what extent is umati a rival to the US standard MTConnect?
Both umati and MTConnect are open interfaces. Umati is based entirely on the freely configurable OPC UA communication platform. OPC UA provides a frame-work which regulates how the machines correspond with each other. The precise content of the communication can be regulated individually by describing parame-ters in an OPC UA Companion Specification, which is a kind of dictionary. Umati and MTConnect are also coordinating on developing this uniform dictionary. There are, however, some differences with regard to the implementation. Here, umati is striving to convert the special domain knowledge of the machine tool industry into semantics and an information model.
What role is the VDMA playing here?
The OPC Foundation has a cooperation agreement with the VDMA (German Engi-neering Federation). Under this, the VDMA acts as a German and European plat-form for all branches of mechanical and plant engineering and as a strategic part-ner of the OPC Foundation. Companies that want to implement OPC then use the sector-specific VDMA 'standard sheets'. The VDMA Robotics + Automation and Plastics + Rubber Machinery associations in particular have already developed their own standards. Others, such as packaging machine manufacturers, are also working on this. We in the VDW are therefore operating in an expert environment, are integrated into the processes of the VDMA and can benefit in the long term from the resulting synergies.
What does this diversification mean for the manufacturers in the individual industries?
Of course, industry-specific standards are important, even unavoidable, for OPC UA. The different industries are too different for it to be otherwise. And there will always be manufacturer- or customer-specific data requirements that are impossi-ble to standardise. Nevertheless, there is always a certain degree of overlap across all sectors. This should then be covered in a general section which is appli-cable to all industries. The VDMA takes care of the corresponding coordination. Of course, this process demands a degree of flexibility from the individual participants in reaching the common goal: a standard that can be applied as universally as possible. However, I'm optimistic that we'll move relatively quickly together towards achieving this.
Author: Annedore Bose-Munde, specialist journalist from Erfurt
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