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Intelligent technology brings next generation interoperability, adaptive learning for industrial automation

By Rohit Bhargava, CTO, Worldwide Discrete Manufacturing on June 8, 2016

Filed under Discrete Manufacturing

OPC1_300Microsoft extends OPC Foundation partnership

We recently returned from Hannover Messe 2016, which drew more than 190,000 global visitors. They came in search of new technology for their manufacturing plants and left witnessing what Hannover Messe itself called the “final breakthrough for Industrie 4.0.”

Fueling that breakthrough were important announcements, partnerships, and commitments addressing the use of cloud services and technologies across industry. We were pleased to be part of that discussion as we announced an extension to our already strong partnership with the OPC Foundation.

OPC2_300Our announcement centered on the fact that we are working with the OPC Foundation to enable virtually any Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) scenario through interoperability between the millions of applications and industrial equipment compliant with the OPC UA standard. This will help IIoT businesses connect a broad range of manufacturing processes and equipment, spanning decades of investment in the OPC UA open source software stack, with advanced data and analytics capabilities enabling new levels of quality, efficiency, and agility.

This interoperability bridges across our IoT offerings, from local connectivity with Windows devices to cloud connectivity via the Microsoft Azure platform. Integration with Azure IoT allows OPC UA telemetry data to be sent to the Azure cloud easily, as well as to command and control their OPC UA devices remotely from the Azure cloud.

OPC3_300This will enable businesses to cloud-enable their industrial equipment—even older, legacy machines—to allow for data and device management, insights, and machine learning capabilities—and even the ability to control their equipment remotely. In addition, Windows 10 devices running the Universal Windows Platform can connect and openly communicate with other IoT devices via OPC UA. In the booth at Hannover Messe, we showed the world’s first OPC UA controller running on Windows 10 IoT Core Pro/Enterprise (including the new Microsoft OPC Publisher), providing OPC UA telemetry data and using Azure to control the data from the cloud.

This news was of tremendous interest and drove several impactful stories in industry publications including Automation World and Business Cloud News. We also heard feedback from influencers and customers that they are excited to see more.

OPC UA integration into Azure IoT Suite

Microsoft and the OPC Foundation have worked closely together over the last number of months to deeply integrate OPC UA into the Azure IoT Suite. The result of this collaboration is a reference implementation available open-source on the OPC Foundation’s GitHub. The architecture of the implementation is shown in the following diagram:

  1. Direct telemetry channel: Pub/Sub—New OPC UA Servers supporting the upcoming Publisher/Subscriber specification extension have the ability to publish OPC node data to Azure IoT Hub for telemetry data via JSON/AMQP messages directly.
  2. Telemetry channel via OPC Publisher—Existing OPC Servers (both OPC and OPC UA) will always support the UA-Binary protocol. The OPC Publisher connects to these servers and subscribes to OPC nodes available on the servers and publishes them to Azure IoT Hub for telemetry data via JSON/AMQP messages.
  3. Field Gateway/Relay—If edge intelligence (e.g. analytics) or store and forward for lossy connections to the cloud are requirements, a Field Gateway is additionally required. It can also act as a Relay for UA-Binary-encoded command and control messages and responses. Note that the OPC Publisher and Field Gateway can also be integrated into a single device, if required. Note that Azure IoT device management agents (per device) will run in parallel, to manage device firmware updates and settings.
  4. Cloud Services—Customers can program Industry 4.0 Services, e.g. ERP services, process optimization services, manufacturing on demand services, etc. against an OPC Graph Database and API, or they can simply run OPC Clients for visualization in the cloud. A reference implementation for both will be provided by us open-source.


OPC diagram

Intelligence is driving manufacturing transformation

So what does this all mean?

In many ways, manufacturing has been on frontlines of technology disruption, helping to fuel growth, enable agility, and redefine efficiencies. Now we see how intelligence is creating new business ecosystems to help us move beyond interconnected services, people, and things to use technology to gain valuable business insights out of our data. It used to be that you designed, built, produced, and shipped a product. Customers bought it and that was the end of the cycle. Now you are building in a continuous feedback loop—sensors in products, after-market services, and customer feedback from a variety of channels—all driven through data intelligence and advanced insights. These insights can help manufacturers create business value, and in many cases, new products or service offerings for their customers.

And the opportunity continues to grow. IDC says the market for manufacturing will be $913 billion by 2018. And with 14 billion connected devices, IIoT will represent a $10.6 trillion impact. According to the American Society for Quality, manufacturers are already realizing revenue increases of more than 16 percent in areas of their businesses where they are implementing IoT technology and ecosystems of intelligence. It’s clear that true business transformation requires these rich systems of intelligence.

OPC4_300The Industrie 4.0 opportunity

This is just another chapter in the rich story of how Microsoft and OPC are working to transform manufacturing through connected solutions. Microsoft’s support of OPC UA in Azure IoT and Windows IoT will reduce barriers to IIoT adoption and help deliver immediate value. These are significant stepping stones towards the Industry 4.0 goals of horizontal and vertical integration and enable the broader shift toward dynamic value networks.

As Industrie 4.0 reaches a tipping point, we believe that openness and interoperability between hardware, software and services will help manufacturers transform how they operate and create solutions that benefit employees’ productivity. As the widely recognized key communication technology for the Industrie 4.0 initiative, OPC UA is critical to this next level of connectivity taking hold in our factories and manufacturing plants. Thomas J. Burke, OPC Foundation president and executive director, commented that “Microsoft’s support for standards foster IoT innovation, and specifically for OPC and OPC UA, result in easy, direct and more secure communications from programmable logic controllers on the shop floor to the top-floor world of IT.”

For some companies, this is new thinking, but for many today, they are already deeply engaged in this transformation and are seeing strong results.

Companies like Jabil, one of world’s leading design and manufacturers, is using IoT to make its factory floor an adaptive learning system. Jabil is digitally transforming its manufacturing production line with a predictive analytics platform based on Azure Machine Learning. With the ability to gather millions of data points from its manufacturing processes to analyze quality issues through advanced analytics in the cloud, they can predict failures much earlier in the manufacturing process. Jabil has already seen an 80 percent accuracy rate in predicting quality issues upstream, contributing to 17 percent savings. This is truly a breakthrough in transforming to a digital factory. You can read more about their story here.

I said this last year and I will say it again: don’t be left behind! IIoT is everywhere, its moving fast, and it’s redefining the manufacturing industry with an unprecedented level of impact. The train has left the station in terms of IIoT or Industry 4.0 and it is time to think hard about where to transform your business or risk missing out on the fourth industrial revolution entirely.

You can learn more about OPC UA integration into Azure in our new video below.


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