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Implementation of Industry 4.0 requires digital consistency in production – from sensors all the way up to the ERP level. An increasing number of machine and system manufacturers are using a combination of OPC UA and POWERLINK to integrate devices from different manufacturers and various levels of the automation pyramid into a complete system.

The complexity of industrial automation tasks is continually increasing, leading to the development of more and more distributed control concepts. These approaches allow for individual, flexible and modularly structured automation technology as intelligent peripheral devices connected via industrial Ethernet become increasingly prevalent. It is becoming more common, for example, for individual parts of machines or machine components to be equipped with their own controllers and grouped together to make up a complete machine.

"Effective communication between individual subsystems and components is of crucial importance for the productivity of these types of solutions," explains Stefan Schönegger, managing director of the Ethernet POWERLINK Standardization Group (EPSG). "For machine and system manufacturers, it's very important that their ability to implement a process in a machine or system is not limited by proprietary solutions." From the control to the enterprise level, OPC UA is an ideal communication protocol.

Open standard

OPC UA is an open standard that is now implemented by all the major control system manufacturers. This standard ensures that machines with controllers from different manufacturers can be easily coordinated within a system. The protocol itself is also platform-independent, and the communication stack can be ported to any operating system or embedded hardware. "OPC UA is the only protocol that combines all of these benefits," says Schönegger. "That's why there is increasing market demand for OPC UA to be strengthened."

In relation to IT applications, OPC UA is ideal for line communication, but there are other requirements that are relevant for communication between controllers, I/O channels and drives. "It can be disastrous if data doesn't arrive on time," explains Schönegger. "Even small deviations in the microsecond range can result in damage to mechanical equipment." Protocols used for this purpose must be reliable in hard real-time applications with cycle times of less than 1 ms. "POWERLINK is the ideal complement to OPC UA," says Schönegger.

Easy engineering with POWERLINK

Like OPC UA, POWERLINK is purely a software-based protocol with a stack that can be accessed externally and ported to all other platforms. "The combination of OPC UA and POWERLINK provides the maximum amount of freedom when engineering machines and systems," says Schönegger. Using PLCopen-compliant OPC UA function blocks makes it easy to engineer applications – regardless of the control system manufacturer.

"The combination of OPC UA and POWERLINK provides the maximum amount of freedom when engineering machines and systems“. Stefan Schönegger, managing director EPSG.

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