OPC Certification: New Things Brewing in the Lab

May 28, 2008
OPC Applications Are Not Communicating, Or Are They?

By Eric Murphy, ControlGlobal.com Columnist

Thunder rolls. Lighting flashes. A scream echoes down the hall.  Scene from a monster movie... or an engineer realizing the OPC applications aren't communicating?   We've all heard at least one connectivity horror story, and often the fiend of these interoperability nightmares is problems between uncertified OPC products.  The OPC Enhanced Certification program is now going into the Lab to bring new life to the OPC interoperability process and ensure implementation is a bit less scary.

Horror stories of interoperability

The creation of the Independent Certification Test Labs augments the existing OPC Foundation certification program. While the current self testing program and interoperability workshops were sufficient for many products, there are still those that cause problems.  Also OPC is now being used in a much wider range of applications, and the more complex systems need a higher level of testing to ensure interoperability.  Much like Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, if you just stitch various OPC pieces together they may work, but the end result might not behave quite like you expected.   Creating a robust OPC system requires quality products that have been proven to work together.

It’s Alive!!!

The OPC specifications provide users with the ability to rapidly deploy powerful applications. “Companies who purchase OPC-compliant products expect secure, reliable interoperability in a highly plug-and-play fashion.” says Tom Burke, President & Executive Director of the OPC Foundation.  “Stricter compliance to the standard is required to insure interoperability and avoid significant problems in terms of reliability, performance, and problematic behavior with other components in the system.”  To achieve this, the OPC Foundation in conjunction with vendors and end users developed the new OPC Enhanced Certification Program. One of the key mechanisms for achieving a stricter level of compliance is the introduction of Independent Certification Test Labs.

Working in the Lab Late One Night….

The Independent Certification Test Labs extend the existing self certification and interoperability programs.  The advanced requirements include a comprehensive battery of tests that go beyond just compliance to the specification.   In addition to compliance and interoperability the process tests behavioral situations like initialization, network interruption, shutdowns, and various device or network errors.  In order to better align with industrial requirements the labs also perform loading tests for client and item counts, extended runtime tests with performance and resource analysis, as well as configuration tests.

Investing in quality of OPC products through the Independent Test Labs improves overall product performance and results in higher customer satisfaction.   In addition to earning the right to use the OPC Foundations gold Certified logo, submitting OPC products to the independent test labs also provide additional benefits to vendors. These include:

  1. Interoperability testing with other vendor products.  Several OPC vendors have provided hardware and/or software as part of the certification program including: ABB, Beckhoff, Cyberlogic, GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms, ICONICS, Kepware, Matrikon, OSI, Rockwell Automation, Siemens, Softing, Software Toolbox and Wonderware.
  2. Improved quality and reduced support costs. The process of preparing the OPC product for the Certification process will expose vendors to new test procedures or scenarios they may not have considered before.  Also increasing product quality and interoperability problems reduces post installation issues and associated support costs.
  3. Third-party analysis:  The advantage of an unbiased, third-party opinion may be one of the most compelling reasons for using the Certification Test Labs.  Regardless of the process, the OPC product receives a fresh, objective analysis by someone other than the original development team.

OPC UA:  The Modern Prometheus

Industrial automation is undergoing revolutionary developments in IT technology, wireless networks and enterprise management over previous generations that are transforming the manufacturing landscape.  OPC UA offers system interoperability that spans multiple systems, platforms and business units. The OPC UA specifications also address multiple aspects of interfacing, including a complex data model and unified information semantics, security and redundancy.   With the scope of OPC UA products extending throughout the enterprise this will present even more interoperability challenges.  Not only does the Enhanced Certification Program aim to greatly improve the quality of existing OPC products, it also certifies interoperability of products developed on the new OPC UA specifications.  

Taking the Fear out of Interoperability

The OPC Foundation Enhanced Certification Program has established a testing methodology that ensures secure, reliable and interoperable high-quality OPC solutions for the end-user community for current and future products.  In order to successfully integrate complex systems using products from multiple vendors requires components that are completely interoperable.  The Independent Certification Test Lab system provides the infrastructure to ensure that vendors are designing and shipping quality products.   Industrial communication systems can be a scary business, but using vendor products that meet the OPC Enhanced Certified standards will take the fear out of interoperability issues.

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