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OPC Foundation, FieldComm to collaborate on enhancing instrumentation interoperability

The OPC Foundation (OPCF) and the FieldComm Group announced a collaboration to drive multi-vendor interoperability of instrumentation devices based on OPC UA and the extensions for the field level, named OPC UA FX (Field eXchange). This development will incorporate preliminary work by both organizations, ensuring that the market will have only one standard. The aim is to provide an interoperable interface between PLC/DCS and instrumentation devices, such as transmitters, instruments and actuators. The solution will support different industries, including oil and gas.

As part of this partnership, OPCF will host a new OPC UA Instrumentation Working Group under the leadership of the Field Level Communications (FLC) Initiative. Participation in the working group is open to members of OPCF, as well as corporate entity members of the FieldComm Group. Many well-known manufacturers in the process and factory automation industries are represented within this working group to ensure a uniform, worldwide and coordinated standard for OPC UA-based instrumentation devices.

In order to achieve inter-vendor interoperability of instrumentation devices, the working group will add to the UAFX base specifications the definition of interfaces and behaviors which are typical for instrumentation devices, including:

  • Commonly used interfaces and data types for the industries mentioned above including functional safety;
  • Diagnostic information specific to instrumentation devices;
  • Operation modes of instrumentation devices; and
  • State machines and timing models for instrumentation-specific functionality, where appropriate.

The new instrumentation device profile specification will use PubSub and can be combined with different underlying communication protocols, such as UDP/IP, and physical layers, such as Ethernet-APL, to support all relevant use cases in discrete and process manufacturing, including safety instrumentation based on OPC UA Safety and deterministic data exchange based on Ethernet Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN), where appropriate.

The instrumentation facet will complement the jointly owned OPC 30081/FCG TS10098 “OPC UA for Process Automation Devices (PA-DIM)” and other companion specifications. The working group will also strive to manage overlap with other information models already released or under development. Examples include, the models for “Calibration” (a Harmonization sub-group) and “Laboratory and Analytical Devices” (LADS working group).

“OPC Foundation and FieldComm Group joining forces in the Instrumentation Working Group is a significant milestone,” said Thoralf Schulz, Chairperson of FieldComm Group. “This collaboration unifies separate volunteer initiatives previously under way in each organization, and creates the basis for a broadly accepted single standard. It will harmonize device integration while supporting the transition of existing device technologies and their installations into the future. Combined with FDI-based device management and the advanced physical layer for the lower-layer connectivity, this is a major milestone towards a harmonized data exchange infrastructure, which will benefit both users of process automation as well as vendors of process automation products and solutions.”

“Digitization needs interoperability. Interoperability needs standards. Extending the OPC UA framework to include an information model for instrumentation devices is important to ensure cross-vendor interoperability and common semantics,” said Thomas Hann, VP of OPCF. “No single organization can achieve this alone. Therefore, cross-organizational collaboration is essential – from process automation to discrete manufacturing, from customer to provider, from machine tool builder to solution partners, and so on. Through this collaboration, an important step towards meeting the needs of our customers and the industry is achieved.”

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