by Rene Makalintal
Lead Project Engineer
Data drives operations in industrial processes. From energy and pharmaceutical production to food and beverage processing and mining, visibility into data means project managers, engineers, and operators can solve issues at their root causes, implement changes to improve efficiency and safety, and ensure compliance.
However, not all systems are set up to deliver the data that we need for critical decision-making. As industrial processes become more automated, interoperable solutions with open connectivity between equipment and systems are essential to ensure we can capture and use the data we depend on. The Open Platform Communications (OPC) standard is a tool for enabling that interoperability for both new equipment and existing systems.
Bringing all the pieces of the puzzle together
Connectivity depends on many working parts.
- A strong network — Ethernet is now the standard for industrial local area network (LAN) environments, offering reliability, low cost, and high availability.
- Adoption of the Internet Protocol (IP) model — In industrial processes, the goal is to give every piece of equipment its own IP address. IP version 6 has added enough IP addresses to make that possible, enabling all equipment to communicate over Ethernet and the Internet.
- Interoperability of equipment and systems — Gathering data is especially challenging when process control plants and facilities include a diverse mix of older and newer equipment.
Making all these pieces work together is a challenge; how can such diverse systems communicate?
More choices for a better fit
Traditionally, organizations turned to proprietary connectivity solutions. However, such solutions impose limitations.
- Industrial producers who use them are locked in to using only certain vendors — not just for software, but often for hardware, too.
- It may be difficult or impossible to get older equipment to share data with newer equipment.
- Proprietary systems may be hard to scale and upgrade as processes change.
Today, industrial producers are embracing open connectivity to enable flexibility and reliable communications among a wide variety of systems. The OPC standard used in industrial automation systems provides interoperability through open specifications standards. The OPC standard works by employing general-purpose operating systems, process control hardware, and software applications to allow all of a plant’s systems and equipment to share data, regardless of the data’s source or type.
Open connectivity delivers numerous advantages.
- It opens up opportunities to move beyond solutions prescribed by a single vendor to enable greater flexibility and efficiency.
- It allows industrial producers to design new processes from the ground up — not adapting the process to fit generic solutions, but designing the right process for the application.
- It allows producers to make upgrades to existing processes and equipment in measured stages to ensure cost-effectiveness; older equipment can still talk to new devices so you don’t have to do a complete scrap and refit to improve your process.
What you need to open up your data
When designing or upgrading your industrial process controls, be sure you work with an industrial designer that
- understands the OPC standard;
- is vendor agnostic so they can recommend the best systems, equipment, and solutions for your process; and
- can integrate industrial-level security to keep data safe and operations running smoothly.
Open connectivity is essential to enabling the timely delivery of data that industrial producers need to make better, faster decisions, reduce or eliminate downtime, and avoid process failures.