Communication with OPC UA

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An important basis for the successful introduction of Industry 4.0 is the manufacturer-independent exchange of data in production. The open interface standard OPC UA is increasingly established for this purpose. The VDMA guideline shows how companies can successfully introduce industry 4.0 communication with OPC UA.

Companies in mechanical and plant engineering as well as operators today are confronted with abstract industrial 4.0 concepts that promise more efficiency and flexibility, but do not give any concrete recommendations for action. Today they use many different industrial communication solutions with the associated costs for system integration. Why do companies still need industry 4.0 communication now?

Industry 4.0 communication is not an abstract concept for the future. It already exists in the form of OPC UA.

Industrial 4.0 communication does not designate another industrial communication solution for the transport of real-time critical process and control data. It complements existing solutions and is based on fundamentally new concepts such as service-oriented architecture (SOA) and information models to describe devices and their capabilities. An SOA makes it possible to act more flexibly on components, machines and systems, since they are not configured and programmed for a specific production task, but rather offer their basic capabilities as services. Component services can be orchestrated into more abstract machine and plant services.

Industry 4.0 communication simplifies the integration of components, machines and systems and increases efficiency through fieldbus-independent connection of condition monitoring and optimization systems. In addition, it enables more flexible assembly and conversion of machines, plants and factories in the Plug & Work application case. The open standard Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC UA) specified in IEC 6254 meets all requirements for industrial 4.0 communication and is increasingly establishing itself in mechanical and plant engineering.

The introduction of industry 4.0 communication based on OPC UA can take place step by step.

First migration step


Industrie 4.0 communication based on OPC UA can be implemented step by step. Basic prerequisite for Industrie 4.0 communication based on OPC UA is a network based on the Internet Protocol (IP). If an IP based network exists, OPC UA can be used as a uniform interface to access information from machines from different manufacturers. For example, condition monitoring systems can access information from machines via Industrie 4.0 communication. In a first step, relevant parameters for machine or system monitoring are manually integrated into the condition monitoring system. This approach is already beneficial compared to today’s integration via many different communication solutions.


Second Migration Step

In a next migration step, the use case plug & work is made possible by using standardized information models, so called Companion Specifications for OPC UA. The core functionality of machines and plants from different vendors is modeled equally to enable identical integration and usage of these machines. More and more operators request this interoperability, for ­example from plastic and rubber machines and devices for automatic identification via RFID.

Third migration step

In a third migration step, an extended information model can contain functions that go beyond the standard. This means that machines and systems from different manufacturers can also differ in terms of performance and efficiency when it comes to industrial 4.0 communication. Not everything can and should be standardized. Know-how of machine and plant manufacturers, e.g. functions for optimization, can be granularly protected by the role-based authorizations of OPC UA.

On the way to the future

Industry 4.0 communication is not an abstract concept for the future. It already exists in the form of OPC UA. Mechanical and plant engineering must face the challenges of the future, which are increasingly coming from the IT and software environment. Terms such as IP-based network, information model and SOA must no longer be just foreign words for machine and plant manufacturers.

VDMA Guideline "Industry 4.0 Communication with OPC UA" (German Engineering Federation)

The VDMA guideline "Industry 4.0 Communication with OPC UA" is a practice-oriented tool. It identifies measures that contribute to the successful introduction of industry 4.0 communication in one's own company. The guide is also available as a PDF document in English, German available.

Online training supports the implementation of OPC UA

Together with the Munich start-up "University4Industry", the VDMA has developed an online training program for the implementation of OPC UA.

Experts from industry and science, including Kuka, Bosch Rexroth, Pepperl Fuchs, Lenze, Vitronic and Fraunhofer IOSB, demonstrate the benefits of OPC UA in online workshops and video interviews and provide practical advice.

Customisable playlists and personalised learning questions round off the online training concept.

Access to the learning content is free of charge for VDMA members.

The online training is available at