August 2009

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Opening the OPC Mailbag

Supplying answers to some OPC email questions.

Manny Mandrusiak
Manny Mandrusiak
Vice President of OPC Marketing,

OPC Foundation

Contributing Editor

It has been a few months now writing for Automtedbuildings.com and I have received many emails from readers of the website asking questions about OPC technology and the OPC Foundation. Feedback of any kind is always a great thing, and receiving questions is even better.  I thought that I would take the time in this month’s column to answer some of the mail that I have received.

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Justin S from Steamboat Springs, Colorado writes:

Question - As an Integrator I use OPC in a lot of my projects, but I am not really sure where it fits in the Building Automation / Home Automation space.  Please elaborate?

Answer - I believe that it is extremely important for the Building Automation and Home Automation verticals to be able to leverage applications deployed in other domains. If we look at the Home Automation space, many companies that provide products for that space also provide products and services for commercial building automation.  In today’s economy vendors are clearly interested in minimizing their investment, but maximizing their return, when integrating services that provide interoperability between products from different vendors.  This level of interoperability is the main focus of OPC technology.

Looking at this question another way, the technology used in commercial building automation has now found its way into home automation.  This provides a huge opportunity for both vendors and end-users.  Imagine being able to use a client like Microsoft Excel to view all of your home automation devices and have the ability to configure or fine-tune them remotely.  I did an article several months ago about being able to access your home systems like your home HVAC system with your iPhone.  This dream will soon be a reality, and that sort of device interoperability has already been proven in the industrial automation space using OPC technology. 

Damian L from Montgomery, Alabama writes:

Question - I have been hearing a lot about OPC UA.  I was wondering if OPC UA is compatible with Linux and Unix operating systems?

Answer - OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) is designed to interface with both Linux and Unix operating systems.  This was done to provide total platform independence for OPC UA.  This independence works well in the embedded market.  The embedded market requires platform independence and the service orientated architecture with web services that OPC UA provides.  It is this service-orientated architecture which provides interoperability between Microsoft and non-Microsoft systems.   

Will D from Seattle, Washington writes:

Question - I use BACnet and have a problem keeping the network online.  Could you please explain a little about the architecture that I am working with?

Answer -  OPC was designed to address the issue of network reliability and redundancy.  It has the ability to provide valuable diagnostic information about the state of the underlying network for applications that require data from devices that are connected to the network.  The concept is that the system continues to run, but a notification of network failures is propagated up to the applications.  This provides an opportunity for diagnostic tools to be deployed to facilitate resolving any network reliability or inefficiency problems.  The problem that you are having with keeping your network online is probably related to an intermittent hardware failure that is demonstrated when excessive amounts of traffic at peak times are observed.  There are many nonintrusive diagnostic tools on the market that can be used to monitor the health of your network.  These tools could probably resolve the issues that you are experiencing.  You could also look at contacting BACnet International directly to discuss the problem with them.  They would probably have some recommendations about vendors who could help you.  There are many OPC Foundation vendors who deal in BACnet and OPC.  You could navigate to www.opcfoundation.org for a list of vendors.

Rosemary M from Vancouver, British Columbia writes:

Question - I am looking for OPC training, and a colleague of mine took a one day class a few years ago from the OPC Foundation.  I did not see any listings on your site.  Do these classes still exist?

Answer - They do indeed still exist.  Due to the extraordinary economic situation over the past year, the OPC Foundation decided to take a fiscally responsible position for our members and cancel them for 2009.  Being a member driven organization we wanted our members to have the ability to regroup and adjust for 2010. Travel budgets for a great many companies were hit hard this year, and we felt that the break allowed everyone to adjust to the new economic situation. The OPC Foundation One-day Training Class schedule for 2010 is currently being finalized, and will be available for viewing on the OPC Foundation website in the fall. 

As you know these One-day Training Classes are a fantastic way to get a complete overview of both OPC and OPC UA technologies.  Attendees leave the training with a firm grasp of what OPC technology is, and how using open standards will improve their bottom line.  They also get the opportunity to meet representatives from member company’s of the OPC Foundation.  This is a fantastic opportunity to compare products and solutions from a variety of vendors all in one room.  Look for details about these classes on the OPC Foundation website this fall.  www.opcfoundation.org

EasyIO These are great questions, and I encourage everyone to continue to email them in to me.  I would be more than happy to answer them, or point them toward the people who can.  I think that one of the interesting things about these questions is that many people in the Building Automation vertical do not really know how prevalent OPC truly is in their vertical.  There are many OPC Foundation member companies that have built OPC servers to interface with BACnet and Johnson Controls protocols.  OPC provides powerful tools to aid in configuration, diagnostics, and accessing runtime information from network devices. 

I know I spoke about synergy in last month’s column, and still truly believe that a synergy between technologies is what the world is truly looking for today.  Everything needs to be tweaked and optimized more than ever before, and using industry standards can achieve true optimization. 

The goal of industrial standards is to provide end-users the best opportunity to purchase and deploy products from various vendors to build best-of-breed systems that will be scalable for the future.  The opportunity that exists between industrial automation and building automation is huge; especially when looking at retrofitting existing buildings to be Smart Grid compatible.  Smart Grid is a phrase that everyone is talking about these days.  Along with talking about the Smart Grid comes the conversation about what the costs will be to be part of the Grid.  Across the board costs of natural resources are continuing to increase.  This means that the payback timeframe for installing and retrofitting existing buildings with intelligent building Automation devices is decreasing. This decrease in the window to be ready for the Smart Grid is a scary thought for some companies, but it also opens a window of opportunity for the use of industry standards in interoperable communication.  The use of industry standards like OPC and BACnet are the first steps in achieving complete system interoperability, and ultimately the first steps into interfacing with the Smart Grid. 

The OPC Foundation will be dedicating a great deal of resources into continuing to work with other consortiums in the Building Automation Space with the mission of identifying the opportunities where information between industrial automation and building automation can be exchanged to achieve operational excellence.

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