Beckhoff Automation Offers OPC UA Integration in TwinCAT Scope Software

Complete analysis of heterogeneous data is now available from TwinCAT controllers and third-party components.

Beckhoff Automation is offering greater integration of OPC UA communication technology into its recently released TwinCAT Scope software. OPC UA and analytics tools are becoming increasingly important as advanced automation tools proliferate. The information must be presented in a clear and efficient manner, and the machine control system also has to cover a wide range of other smart components.

TwinCAT Scope Software, OPC UA, data security, controls systems, Beckhoff Automation

TwinCAT 3 Scope consists of Scope View for the graphical display of signal curves and Scope Server for the actual data logging. (Image source: Beckhoff Automation)

TwinCAT Scope software provides optimum support for integrated data acquisition across heterogeneous system environments. A standardized OPC UA communication channel enables this charting tool to analyze data from diverse sources such as TwinCAT controllers and third-party components.

TwinCAT 3 Scope consists of Scope View for the graphical display of signal curves and Scope Server for the actual data logging. The Scope Server  be installed on a target device for autonomous logging (without the View component if desired) or on the corresponding engineering system together with Scope View for remote logging. The latter solution offers the advantage that no additional software needs to be installed on the target device. As a result, no updates to TwinCAT controllers are required, and devices without TwinCAT software do not require modification to display their data graphically in Scope View.

Vendor-Independent Secure Data Collection Via OPC UA

For logging measured signals, the Scope Server features a TwinCAT-specific ADS channel as well as support for another standardized communication channel in the form of an OPC UA client. The widespread use of OPC UA in automation technology enables TwinCAT Scope to acquire and display measured data in a vendor-independent way. With OPC UA, this can be achieved reliably and securely, especially if certificates are used.

The TwinCAT Target Browser  ̶  which is used to manage connected data sources in TwinCAT Engineering  ̶  has been expanded with OPC UA support. It enables browsing in the namespaces of connected OPC UA servers. This feature can be used to select the desired variables for logging by the Scope Server with configuration options for certificate-protected access.

OPC UA Facilitates Interoperability

Beckhoff integrated OPC UA into TwinCAT Scope software to provide customers the tools they need to implement IIoT and Industrie 4.0 concepts. “Controls engineers and plant managers in all industries want to harness the benefits of big data, so they are working to gather as much data as possible from individual machines up to multiple production lines across global operations,” Daymon Thompson, automation product manager for North America at Beckhoff Automation, told Design News. “However, the difficulties of communicating between controllers from multiple vendors can create a barrier to effective data acquisition. As a platform-independent communication protocol, OPC UA eliminates these problems by providing standardized and secure data exchange among devices, machines and industries.”

Thompson noted that OPC UA can be integrated from the sensor to the cloud, and it is recommended in Reference Architecture Model Industrie 4.0 (RAMI 4.0) for implementation as a communication layer. “Beckhoff now includes OPC UA as a server and client in nearly every machine controller that we produce to facilitate open interoperability with third-party devices. This increases our ability to complement our machine control capabilities with advanced connectivity tools for troubleshooting, machine optimization and data analytics, including TwinCAT 3 Scope software.”

Scope View and Scope Server

Thompson noted that the TwinCAT Scope is an integrated digital oscilloscope that provides graphical display of signal curves. “This software-based charting tool is extremely useful for machine commissioning and process optimization, and it uses two main components for these purposes,” said Thompson. “Scope View, provides graphical display of measuring signals through integration in the TwinCAT XAE programming environment and Microsoft Visual Studio. Operators can view a variety of signal curves and create complex representations, including X vs. time charts, XY plots, bar charts, digital displays and others, to measure and analyze frequency responses more effectively.”

The second component, Scope Server provides the visual display of the data. “To maximize the benefits of Scope View, TwinCAT Scope gathers all available measurement data in heterogeneous systems with Scope Server,” said Thompson. “The TwinCAT 3 Scope Server prepares data for visual display in TwinCAT 3 Scope View. It can be used for autonomous data recordings in distributed systems within production, plant or machine networks. This component performs manufacturer-independent data logging with both a TwinCAT-specific communication channel via ADS protocol and a standardized communication channel implemented with MQTT or OPC UA.”

Data Security Is Built In

OPC UA integrates several enhanced security mechanisms to ensure secure transport of encrypted data from end to end. This comes through two mechanisms. “The first mechanism of OPC UA’s security is a secure data channel and authenticated clients via x.509 certificates, which means the server and client have to trust each other via Public/Private Key Pairs,” said Thompson. “This is possible with either self-signed certificates or certificates from a trusted Certificate Authority.”

The second mechanism is access-level security at the namespace and node level. “This means that data down to the individual data point can be secured via groups or user permissions,” said Thompson. “Additionally, the data can be encrypted using a Secure Sockets Layer to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks. This does not necessarily guarantee the entire network is secure, but the data certainly are.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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