OPC UA Makes Machine to Machine Meaningful Interoperability Possible

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has provided society with a vast variety of distributed applications including but not limited to the meaningful Machine to Machine (M2M) communication targeting distributed mobile applications in the context of new emerging disciplines, i.e. Industry 4.0 (I4.0) and Internet of Things (IoT).  All applications designed atop of network communication can be grouped as follows:

  • human-centric – applications where the information origin or ultimate destination is an operator
  • machine-centric – applications where information production, consumption, networking, and processing are achieved entirely without human interaction

A typical human-centric approach is web service supporting, for example, online bank account management. It is essential that, in this case, any uncertainty and necessity to make a decision can be relaxed by human interaction. Coordination of multi robots behavior in a work-cell is a machine-centric example. It is crucial that, in this case, any human interaction is impractical or even impossible. This interconnection scenario requires the machine to machine communication (M2M) demanding multi-vendor devices integration. It is a real challenge if the mentioned machines are provided by a vast variety of vendors. Machines that by design are capable of being integrated into an industrial process without programming are marked Plug and Produce (PaP) ready. This approach requires applying an accepted by the community international standard, i.e. OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA).

The open-source Object-Oriented Internet project targets multi-vendor plug-and-produce interoperability scenario to provide generic solutions for publishing and updating information in a context that can be used to describe and discover this information adopting well known and widely used concept coined as Object-Oriented Programming. The OOI is implemented based on the OPC Unified Architecture that is recognized by the community as the industrial integration standard that fulfills the above-mentioned requirements.The parts interoperability implies that engaging the possibility of exchanging information over underlying communication infrastructure (network for short) we shall expect that this conversation of machines is meaningful. In other words, there must be a shared understanding of the mutually processed data. It is possible only and only if all communicating parties use the same semantic-context (rules to express data meaning), i.e. the same syntax and semantics. The syntax rules answer the question of how the bitstreams exchanged over the network shall be formatted. To make two parties interoperable both must use the same semantic rules to assign the information (meaning) to bitstreams (data) exchanged over the wire. The real challenge – we are facing – is how to independently produce the machines to guarantee that they are plug and produce ready. While producing the machines in compliance with the OPC UA this issue is relaxed by applying the following OPC UA standardized concepts

  • Information Model – all about how to design a formal but mutually meaningfully and shareable description of the considered process
  • Address Space – all about how to instantiate and expose to the network a life replica of the process providing real-time data according to the mentioned above formal description

To get more details about this process you may visit the section Information Models Development of my ebook Object-Oriented Internet.

If you have concerns that the process is too sophisticated, requires specialized knowledge and skills don’t give up. Fortunately, there is a free tool addressing all aspects of the OPC UA Information Model design and Address Space deployment. The tool Address Space Model Designer is maintained as the open-source public project on the GitHub.

Let’s join our effort on the GitHub Address Space Model Designer (ASMD); GitHub Open Source Software. Any kind of support is welcome.

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