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The OPC Foundation has created a new program aimed specifically at aiding system integrators and distributors in the deployment of products from different vendors. The Foundation’s original focus had been on vendors developing shrink-wrap products and providing specifications, technology and certification to facilitate interoperability. However, this new program focuses on integrators and distributors who build custom systems from products from multiple OPC vendors and in particular their development of custom software that adds value by incorporating custom OPC components to complete integration projects. The aim is to meet end-user expectations for integrators to increase their proficiency in the use of the OPC technology by providing a mechanism and membership class under which they can design, develop and certify custom software. “Initially, the system integrator makes the end user happy by putting together a system that consists of certified OPC products from multiple vendors,” explained OPC president Thomas Burke. “However, problems sometimes arise as small pieces of custom software are developed to extend the functionality, which then compromise the integrity of the system.”
Frequently, the OPC component is not developed exactly to specification and, when making things work together becomes difficult, it is often OPC that gets the blame. “The Foundation wants this to stop, for the benefit of all,” said Burke. “So we are calling on the myriad of OPC system integrators out there who routinely use OPC to solve problems in the field to sign up and help raise the overall quality and reliability of OPC products.”
The need is all the more urgent because of the launch of the OPC Unified Architecture that covers all levels of enterprise connectivity, including aspects outside the direct automation arena. “We especially urge companies thinking of implementing an OPC Unified Architecture system to join us now,” said Burke, “so that end users do not become disillusioned with our next ambitious step into the future.”
OPC Foundation membership fees have traditionally correlated with company annual revenue. However, because project values tend to be high in the automation business, a different pricing model has been developed and a new System Integrator & Distributor (SI&D) membership category created with a fixed membership fee of $1500. For this, the SI&D member gains access to OPC specifications and reference implementations (sample code) on which to base its products, together with the Foundation’s free Compliance Test Tools to self-certify its own custom OPC components. A special listing of SI&D members is to be maintained and end users will be actively encouraged to use members from it for their projects.
Supporting activities will include a fresh round of specialist SI&D training events and a series of webinars. “We’re also developing a certification scheme which will award successful attendees at our training classes ‘Certified OPC Provider’ status,” said Burke. “We are now establishing a network of new Test Lab services to ensure top product quality and reliability, particularly for Unified Architecture components, and our goal is to ensure that all developers, including the new SI&D membership, take full advantage of the services we offer.”
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