Trans-Domain Technology Proliferation

Oct. 1, 2008
Trans-Domain Technology Proliferation Best Describes What OPC Is to Many Industries
By Eric Murphy, columnist

Trans-Domain Technology Proliferation. Now what does that mean? Although it might sound like the latest thing in home theater equipment, it really best describes what OPC is to many industries.  The term Trans-Domain Technology Proliferation would roughly translate to “The problems being faced in one industry have already solved been solved in another and can be quickly adopted”. A good example is the common data connectivity problems in industrial automation and building automation systems.

Problems without Borders

Although oil and gas production, discrete manufacturing, electrical utilities and building system management are all different business domains, they experience many of the same pains and challenges.  These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Connecting multiple vendor systems and/or legacy systems
  • Getting the right data to the people who need, when they need it.
  • Reduce maintenance costs and increase reliability
  • Increasing demand for performance under increasing regulatory or economic restraints.
  • Corporate and global pressure for standardization

In the industrial automation domain, OPC has long been recognized as providing standardized, real-time data access to disparate systems.  As with other industry verticals, building automation systems have a wide range of proprietary protocols, as well as several popular interfaces such as BACnet, LonWorks®, Modbus and SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol).  However, system connectivity goes well beyond simply the device and equipment level.  Many industries are looking to how technology can be leveraged to create extra value by providing connectivity to the enterprise.  For the building automation industry that means creating a network for a building or campus that connects and exchanges information between mechanical and electrical systems and the entire range of business applications.

The Technology: OPC

OPC has long history of providing standardized device integration.  The OPC specifications are complimentary to existing building automation protocols, and  OPC Servers are readily available to provide cross-industry connectivity for many aspects of building systems.  This means OPC allows the facility management system to access any equipment, across multiple vendors. Boilers, chillers, rooftop units and electrical distribution equipment are all equipment included in the connective scheme of buildings today. As well as water-source heat pumps, fume hood controls, power monitoring equipment and a host of other sources. Deciding on which protocol to use is just part of the picture. The protocol question was really answered long ago.  Each protocol, including OPC, has its own advantages and disadvantages, but none is a solution in itself. Those in industry who are successfully using OPC have recognized the big picture.  OPC transcends all industries and multiple levels of the enterprise.  Using OPC allows industry leaders to combine the benefits of industry specific device level protocols with system or enterprise level optimization products or solution architectures.

Go Forth and Multiply.  Quickly

Success in today’s environment means a business must be able to adapt quickly. The term proliferation can be defined as ‘rapid growth and reproduction of parts’. Since the OPC standard has been embraced by applications at multiple levels of the enterprise, building management systems can quickly adopt and benefit from common OPC architectures used in the industrial world. OPC connectivity gives businesses the ability to select best-of-breed solutions which are easier and more intuitive to navigate and interact with a given system than a proprietary software application.

Using OPC to integrate architectures also creates opportunities for suppliers to partners. Vendors of different major systems can come together to provide packaged interoperable solutions – without the user being tied to a solution offered by a single supplier.  Building automation customers have ready access to proven, non-industry domain specific OPC technology based solutions such as system redundancy, guaranteed data delivery and asset-level access security. In addition, using open system connectivity like OPC makes efficient use of staff expertise, by allowing facility managers to leverage existing knowledge and experience. 

Trans-Domain Technology Proliferation

Open systems and connectivity provides a solution to bring all systems together and present building owners with a way to cut costs and increase efficiency. Standards based connectivity provides the benefits of capital and operating cost savings. Maintenance and operating costs are reduced because information is available and easily accessible for energy conservation, diagnosing problems, and directing maintenance. Using OPC to connect to existing equipment means levels of expertise are utilized rather than replaced. Regardless of what industry the OPC solution originated from, the end results for the building management systems are the same: creating a comfortable, safe building environment; controlling energy and operating costs; providing a vital business infrastructure; and helping to manage resources. Building owners and managers reviewing their building needs should take advantage of the OPC based connectivity technologies. Problems span industries, so should the solutions.