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Machine Communication: OPC UA as The Linguistic Basis

Machine Communication: OPC UA as The Linguistic Basis

Interview with Thorsten Kühmann, Managing Director Plastics and Rubber Machinery, VDMA e.V.

Communication is key, and this also applies to machines, since the ability of machines to communicate has economic advantages. However, this first requires a common linguistic basis, because then the machines can be used particularly efficiently. Thorsten Kühmann from the German Engineering Federation VDMA explains in an interview what OPC UA means in the context of M2M communication and why it is the future of production.

Mr. Kühmann, what is OPC UA?

Thorsten Kühmann.
Thorsten Kühmann.

Thorsten Kühmann: OPC UA (Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture) is the global language of production. Simply put, it is about machines being able to communicate with each other in the same language. Only this enables machine-to-machine communication across manufacturers and internationally.

Why is OPC UA indispensable for the plastics industry in the future?

Kühmann: It is indispensable because the production language creates a decisive prerequisite for being able to offer intelligent machine systems. Intelligence is created by algorithms that can be generated from a large amount of data. The basic prerequisite for this is that data is collected reliably along the process chain. This requires a reliable, standardized data flow, and that is exactly what the OPC UA-based production language is designed to deliver.

What can the technology already do today? Where does the industry still want to take it?

Kühmann: OPC UA provides the technical framework for the new language; it is, so to speak, the grammar of a new language. Within the industry, we are working internationally on the definition of interfaces for the respective application, the so-called specifications. This is then comparable to the words of a language. In the area of injection molding, extrusion and peripherals, we have already made good progress.

To what extent will this topic also be present at K 2022?

Kühmann: It will be present through a variety of use cases. Visitors will be sent on the OPC UA journey with their smartphones and will be able to read out defined data from around 70 machines exhibited at K. In the VDMA Dome, we will also install a control panel with which visitors can reach all connected machines. This will give them an impression of cross-manufacturer machine-to-machine communication.

Are there exhibitors who are already successfully using OPC UA?


Kühmann: At K alone, there are more than 40 exhibiting companies from Europe, Japan, China and Canada showing the applications on site!

What experience reports do you get from these users?

Kühmann: Experience shows that customers are increasingly interested because networking on the store floor offers direct benefits: Production becomes transparent from day 1 and thus can be controlled incorruptibly and reliably. Especially in the current climate, with high energy and material costs, processes must be optimized along the entire chain. For example, it simply makes no sense to preheat material continuously when it is perfectly sufficient to do so on demand. In addition, there are requirements for the use of recyclates and the CO2 balance. The processes can only be precisely controlled and made transparent through digitization.

What is missing for OPC UA to be fully functional?

Kühmann: The data flow itself works with OPC UA; now many specifications still have to be created to connect all machine systems!

The next crucial step will then be data collection and processing beyond the store floor. So it’s all about interoperability between companies. This is necessary to create intelligent and self-controlling machine systems. In addition to the technical prerequisites, the trust of customers plays a decisive role here. Only when they are willing to supply data on a large scale, smart services can be created via algorithms. This can then lead to self-learning and self-operating machines. In times of a shortage of skilled workers and high costs for energy and materials, these are exactly the right answers. Initial considerations are moving in the direction of a federal structure for data collection with governance created by the industry. At this point, the VDMA is in exchange with the federal government under the keyword Manufacturing-X!


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