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OPC UA: Could it be the holy grail of your Digital Transformation?

by Jean-François Simon - Firmware Team Manager | Feb 21, 2020

As the industry moves inexorably toward profound transformation, factories increasingly rely on Data collection, consolidation and visualization technologies in the hopes of optimizing their operations. A transformation made imperative by an increasingly challenging economic environment on ever more competitive markets. No wonder that major players from the largest manufacturing sectors have now embraced the transformation initiated by the adoption of Industry 4.0.


How can this protocol support your digital transformation?


Over the past 20 years, the number of connected objects has grown steadily. A growth that has allowed many proprietary protocols to emerge and flourish in production environments. As Data has become the new gold, interconnecting different systems and centralizing your Data looks more like an ironman marathon than a walk in the park. This proliferation of proprietary solutions has favored the creation of "clusters" within systemic silos. The walls of these virtual fortresses will have to fall to allow manufacturers and operators of industrial equipment to take full advantage of cloud technologies to connect, manage and optimize their production units.

OPC UA was born to develop a common set of standards that manufacturers and operators of industrial equipment could use to free themselves from constraints of these silos. Ewon gateways have always supported a wide variety of protocols. We value this independence which allows us to connect all major PLC brands to IIoT platforms such as Microsoft Azure, Siemens Mindsphere or Amazon Web Services.

It is undoubtedly its high adaptability that makes the OPC UA standard a must in any digital transformation project. After all, the goal pursued by almost every single organization through its digitization is to create a sustainable business. By promoting the decompartmentalization of industrial systems, the OPC UA standard opens up exciting new approaches to the industry of the future.


What are the advantages of the OPC UA standard?


We have already listed some of them in the previous paragraphs. OPC UA aims to be open and adaptable. An undeniable advantage when a factory wants to embark on their first Data project. Implementing this protocol is a significant step forward in consolidating all production Data. It enables your organization to transform its processes with an aim at meeting the challenges posed by the advent of Industry 4.0. besides, the OPC UA protocol allows you to:

Uniformize your communication:

Day after day, we are bridging OT and IT. Gone are the days of complex management of multiple technologies within your production environment. With OPC UA, all production Data is routed to your internal databases or the cloud through a single protocol.The OPC UA standard is independent of all brands. A set of immutable rules governs it. The implementation of intelligent IIoT gateways, therefore, allows you to interconnect New machines or new Data collection services with assets and machines that are already in place for many years. This protocol partially erases your technical debt since it allows devices based on different technologies to communicate with each other in a unified manner.


OPC UA Gateway by Ewon


Improve your security

The connectivity of industrial machines generates added value, but it also involves certain risks. The OPC UA standard is secure by design. This protocol natively integrates security elements at all levels of the solution. At the user level, the security mechanisms authorize access to specific profiles based on their assigned roles. Application-wise, the initiation of a session includes the exchange of digitally signed certificates. Finally, at the communication level, each packet can be signed and encrypted. You will find a representation of these mechanisms in the OPC Foundation's diagram below. If you want to learn more download the guide to practical security recommendations for developing an OPC UA application.


OPC UA Security Model 


Standardize your Data models

The adoption of OPC UA not only promotes Data collection but also the way it is structured. Because it is not so much the amount of Data collected that matters but what you decide to do with it. By promoting interoperability between your machines and allowing the consolidation of your Data, OPC UA solutions will enable you to develop new models. These new models will allow you to approach your telemetry Data differently. The emergence of new models will lead to the optimization of your production processes and even the development of new revenue-generating services.


Where should you start?


As explained above, the OPC UA protocol facilitates the exchange of information between business systems (databases, ERP, SCADA and other data collection, analysis and visualization tools) and sensors measuring the Data concretely in production. However, developing, deploying and standardizing OPC UA applications is not an easy task.

As with most IoT technologies, you will first need to audit your fleet and draw up an inventory of what you have. You will need to assess and decide to install a communication layer within each of your production nodes. In the case of existing assets ("Brownfield"), the installation of Flexy IIoT gateway will allow you to decompartmentalize your environment by allowing different systems to interact with each other.

If you are involved in setting up a new project ("Greenfield"), you can start adding sensors, PLCs and actuators that natively support the OPC UA. Given the high interoperability of this protocol, you can free yourself from the constraints posed by proprietary technologies. All your systems will work together, regardless of their location or type.


So, is OPC UA the holy grail of your digital transformation?


The simple blunt answer is no. While incredibly powerful and flexible, OPC UA is just a protocol that will help you uniformize the way your machines and assets communicate and exchange data.The real challenge lies with your strategy and your development plan.

This is the reason why, through its network of "Solution Partners",HMS wishes to provide you with all the keys to succeed in your digital transformation. Our ecosystem offers our customers the possibility to manage all operations and view all data through a single dashboard, allowing them to achieve new levels of connectivity.

Curious to see which benefits you could gain by investing in a modern and robust OPC UA Gateway? Willing to run a scalable proof of concept on your factory floor? Check out now how the Ewon Flexy can help you in taking the first step towards the digitization of your activities.

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