Interoperability is described as a key requirement of Industry 4.0 but what exactly is it, why does it matter and how is it achieved?
Interoperability is concerned with connectivity and communication between machines, devices, sensors and people which in its self is nothing new. For many years now, across many industries, sensors connected to programmable logic controllers (PLC), themselves connected to supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA), have been communicating data between themselves and with people.
Many of these systems however were designed to perform specific tasks and extensibility was often not an important design requirement. Increasingly however people have seen opportunities in accessing the data used by these control systems for other purposes (data which is now referred to as Dark Data) but the problem was gaining access to this data in these 'closed' systems.
One of the technologies that has made this connectivity and communication much easier is OPC (Open Platform Communications). OPC UA was first released in 2008 and the current version 1.03 was released in Oct 2015.
OPC UA allows data to be exchanged easily and securely between different platforms from many different manufacturers. If you need access to data being captured by one system for use by another system, for another purpose, you can do this easily with an OPC UA server.
For example a PLC 'run signal' (true/false) from an existing control system, can be used to automatically communicate a machine downtime state to an Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) reporting system, via an OPC UA server.
What if the machine being monitored however is in a different geographical location to another system that requires access to the machine data?
This is where the Internet of Things (IoT) has a part to play. Interoperability and the IoT is the subject of the next blog post, Interoperability - Part 2.