The world language of production sets the standard for machine interfaces

The VDMA study "Interoperability in Machinery and Plant Engineering" highlights the relevance of interoperable interfaces and associated standards in companies.

Only the interoperability of machines and systems enables companies to participate in new digital structures and is a basic prerequisite for new digital business models. Interoperable interfaces enable new machines to be integrated more efficiently into existing and new production landscapes. "Our current study shows the relevance of interoperable interfaces and associated standards such as OPC UA in companies," says Hartmut Rauen, Deputy Managing Director of the VDMA.

Interoperability is repeatedly highlighted as a key strategic component for Industrie 4.0. It is characterized by the fact that all communication partners involved understand the interface content. In a recent study, the VDMA asked companies how they assess the importance of interoperable interfaces. More than 600 companies participated in the study. This very high number underlines the high relevance of the topic. The results show that more than 90 percent of the companies identified a need for interoperable interfaces. The highest strategic importance is attached to the dissolution of proprietary interfaces. "This is the prerequisite for platform-independent data exchange," explains Rauen. "This is what makes the implementation of plug and produce possible in the first place."


Monitoring production has high priority

Among the use cases that companies implement with an interoperable interface, three use cases were named most frequently: Monitoring production (80 percent), which includes transmitting the current machine status, current machine utilization, or even determining machine efficiency. This goes hand in hand with the provision of process data. Here, for example, sensor measurement values are made available. Another use case is condition monitoring (70 percent), which is becoming increasingly important in the context of Industry 4.0. Also relevant for more than half of the companies is production control (60 percent).


Horizontal and vertical communication with OPC UA is important

Central to this discussion is also the consideration of the systems that are to communicate with each other. For the companies surveyed, it is important to represent both horizontal and vertical communication via OPC UA in order to be able to map production systems in their entirety in a consistent manner. In the first step, the focus in the VDMA working groups is on the description of vertical communication. While the focus is currently still on communication between the machine and the MES (Manufacturing Execution System), the companies surveyed want to communicate directly from the machine or production system to the cloud in the future. Horizontal communication will follow in a second step.

Many companies have already implemented OPC UA

The study shows: The overall cross-industry goal for the use of interoperable interfaces is to map production systems in their entirety in a consistent manner. Industry 4.0 should be characterized by the fact that every participant in the communication network can easily communicate with all others. Thus, an interoperable interface is of high to very high importance for more than half of the companies that rate interoperable interfaces as relevant. Of these, 90 percent state that they have already implemented OPC UA as an interface or are planning to do so in the future.

For the VDMA, OPC UA activities have priority

"Companies have recognized the need for a uniform data model and are taking advantage of the opportunity to actively help shape the standard and build up additional knowledge about OPC UA," says Andreas Faath, Head Industrial Interoperability at the VDMA. The VDMA has prioritized OPC UA activities for several years now and will continue to provide companies with important guidance in the future. The VDMA sees itself as the center of gravity for OPC UA interface standardization and is developing the world language of production together with numerous companies. Together with international partners, the VDMA is also working on cross-industry harmonization. The BMWi has recognized the great importance of this and is funding the "Interoperable Interfaces for Intelligent Production" (II4IP) project until January 2023.