The long, slow grind of standards development, especially in the world of automation and control, always seems to be an exercise of life in slow motion. It just takes a long time to make it from ideas, discussions, and standards documents to broad industry acceptance and actual application implementations.
FDT technology (IEC 62453) is now in the final stages of member review for its emerging FDT IIoT Server (FITS) specification. The FITS architecture has an overall goal to empower the intelligent enterprise with native integration of the OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA), as well as comprehensive control and web services for secure mobile, cloud, fog, and enterprise-wide applications in the process, hybrid, and discrete automation sectors.
Given the strategic positioning of FDT Group technology and the influence of its member companies, gaining acceptance can be viewed as a major step forward in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology standards development.
With integration of the FDT and OPC UA standards, systems will have a new optimal approach for multi-network intelligent device configuration and data interchange. (Image source: FDT Group)
“The emerging FITS architecture built off the trusted FDT technology is the ‘game-changer’ the automation industry has been anticipating,” said Glenn Schulz, FDT group managing director, in a recent press release. “Designed to empower IIoT and Industry 4.0 and leverage the recent release of FDT 2.1, the FDT IIoT solution is built surrounding a core FDT server, which serves as a broker for a wide range of client/server interactions, whereby communication between key components is standardized for its Control, OPC UA, and Web Services interfaces.”
OPC UA Server Integration
One of the most interesting features of FITS is the integration of OPC UA Server. It is a key piece of how the system can deploy a single server, located either locally or in the cloud, and provide access to the complete project structure and all devices with a web browser. The ability to access configuration, health, and diagnostics information from a tablet or smartphone is seen as a compelling addition for business process improvement.
Thanks to a multi-year collaboration between FDT Group and the OPC Foundation, there looks to be new methodologies for implementing a network communication model to meet specific application needs. Both client-server and publish-subscribe models are included in the FDT for OPC UA companion specification.
With the client-server approach, the client goes through OPC UA to access current data values, but must keep asking to verify the information. This is done either through a program in the OPC UA client or an individual doing a manual “refresh.”
Alternatively, the FITS architecture can use OPC UA publish-subscribe technology that allows sensor, network, and topology information to be shared within the enterprise including the following: mobile devices, distributed control systems (DCSs), programmable logic controllers (PLCs), manufacturing execution systems (MESs), enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, the cloud, IIoT, and Industry 4.0.
Pub-Sub methodology eliminates the burden of request-response communication, and multiple clients can subscribe and receive notifications. The server automatically notifies all of the subscribed clients when the specified information has changed according to predefined parameters.
A number of technical resources and articles on the FDT Group website provide details on how the FITS architecture and OPC UA work together. One article describes how technology collaboration between these two standards organizations is potentially changing the paradigm for integrating control systems, applications, and devices within a unified architecture. An example is the article, “All the Data Without the Trouble,” but there is also additional information of interest on the technology release itself.
What Lies Ahead
Al Presher is a contributing editor for Design News, specializing in automation and control and writing on automation, machine control, robotics, fluid power, and power transmission since 2002.
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