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Get connected to the future with OPC UA for the die casting industry - An initiative of VDMA and CEMAFON

With Industry 4.0, Internet of things, the age of the intelligent machine to machine communication has already begun.


Based on an initiative of VDMA and CEMAFON, the associations have built up an OPC UA (Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture) in Europe to show possible customer scenarios in the diecasting industry.

To meet the requirements of industry 4.0 with an intelligent communication in and to a die casting cell, the representatives of the European die casting industry are jointly developing a standardized open communication interface standard based on OPC UA.

OPC UA (short for Open Platform Communications United Architecture) is a data exchange standard that defines the mechanisms of industrial collaboration (machine-to-machine or PC-to-machine communication). It enables the components of the die-cast cell to be networked digitally and integrated into the production network - regardless of which manufacturers originate the machines, components and software in production.

Foundry-Planet took the chance to meet Dr. Sandra Drechsler (VDMA) at the Forggensee, an alpine lake near, Füssen to talk about the state of the project:

FP: Dr. Drechsler, the OPC UA initiative of VDMA and CEMAFON on the topic of Industry 4.0 / IoT for standardizing new intelligence in the communication between machines of different manufacturers on different levels, was presented to a wide public at GIFA. Please breifly describe the basics and tell us at what point you are currently.

Drechsler: In order to meet the requirements of Industry 4.0 and to provide an intelligent communication within and to a die casting cell, the representatives of the European die casting industry are jointly working on a standardised open communication interface based on OPC UA ("Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture") under the umbrella of VDMA Metallurgy and CEMAFON. In the meantime, over 60 experts from over 30 European companies are developing manufacturer-independent information models (Companion Specifications), the interface between components, machines and systems. Currently and in the coming months the contents of the interface will be defined and elaborated. The first release is planned for the first half of 2020.  

FP: When considering standardization of the die-cast cell with its entire periphery, would it not be simpler to start, for example, with the die-casting machine?

Drechsler: Nowadays, optimizations and innovations are usually achieved in the component network at the plant level and rarely purely at the component level. The customer-noticeable product in the die casting sector is the production cell, which is made up of a large number of individual machines and systems. In order to digitize and optimize the cell, as many cell components as possible must communicate and interact with each other independently of the manufacturer. It is therefore necessary to standardize the communication interfaces of as many participants as possible. Yes, the standardization efforts are more complex, but in relation the benefits for customers and manufacturers are much bigger.

FP: Can you explain the advantages from the point of view of the manufacturer, the customer, and the machine builder for the production process of die-casting? Does the situation differ in theory versus practice?

Drechsler: The main advantage is the standardisation of the interface and of the data. At this moment there are lot of different solutions on the market. The machine to machine communication is realized individually with fieldbus technologies for each and every cell. This leads to integration issues with different vendors and the technology which is used today hinders a further development of the machines, cells and processes. It is difficult to implement new technologies and especially new industry 4.0 projects in this technological environment. 

The communication with MES systems, using proprietary solutions, is very hard for the customers to integrate in their systems. They need to implement various specific communication technologies and protocols for each machine vendor of a cell, to be able to access data from the machines.

Replacing the proprietary solutions by OPC UA leads to a device and vendor independent approach for the integration of the device into the cell and communication to the customer's MES communication.

Another benefit is the possibility for the die casters to access and store data from the process. For this not only the data of the high pressure die casting machine needs to be stored. More than 50% of a die casting cells devices hold information, which is needed to monitor the process properly and optimize the process. With machines delivering this information with OPC UA, the big effort to access and store data nowadays gets to be a way less complex task.

FP: Who comes into question as a target group for OPC UA, which levels are served by the initiative and how many test companies are interested in learning more about the basics?

Drechsler: A high pressure die casting machine consists of many different devices and we are talking about standardisation. If we do not take all stakeholders into account, then we will define a standardisation most likely will not be accepted. Therefore, not only the machine suppliers but also the suppliers of peripheral devices and already some die casters are part of the standardization group. We are working together on a standardisation of the machine-to-machine communication inside a die casting cell and as well towards systems on the outside. Use cases are defined for identification, asset management, alarms and events, automation, process monitoring and process control, maintenance and condition monitoring.

FP: What are the next steps, who owns OPC UA, and how can interested companies get informed and involved?

Drechsler: OPC UA is free and useable for everybody; it belongs to nobody. It is managed by the OPC Foundation, that's a non-profit organisation. Everybody can use OPC UA and take part in the development of OPC UA and the so-called Companion Specifications.

Everybody who is interested in participating in our standardization effort is welcome to join us. The whole team for the HPDC standardisation process is open for discussion, for additions and for new ideas. During fall of 2019, we will work in 8 groups to create definitions and develop the content of our new interface standard. During the first half of 2020, we plan to have a first release.

FP: How is OPC UA accepted in the European environment and to whom is it ultimately available?

Drechsler: The acceptance of OPC UA is growing day by day. The manufacturers report that they are aware of the fact that OPC UA is an interface for data exchange inside their plants. Another very positive sign is that the VDMA supports over 23 working groups which are working on OPC UA solutions and over 17 industry sectors are already working on implementations. It is clear that OPC UA is the interface for industry 4.0.

FP: How do you personally assess the efforts of the European foundry industry in the field of digitization, are companies and mechanical engineering able to maintain their leading position internationally?

Drechsler: With Industry 4.0, the age of a digitally-driven production has also started in the foundry industry. Fast commissioning, detailed process monitoring, optimal productivity, reproducible product quality or complete storage of setting and process data – the market requirements are constantly increasing and require an efficient exchange of information across manufacturers. Standardised communication interfaces are the precondition! The die casting sector is a strong part of the foundry industry in Europe. The current changes in the automobile industry, the most important customer branch for the die casting industry, require substantial improvements towards even more efficient processes and stable supply chains, to keep die casting and casting attractive in comparison with other competing production methods. The die casting industry has recognised the need and necessity early and reacted accordingly. This will help the die casting sector to keep its leading position.

FP: Can you imagine that this initiative could also be used as a template for the areas of sand casting, low pressure casting, precision casting, etc. in the environment of VDMA Metallurgy?

Drechsler: Yes, that is the goal! The Companion Specifications will be structured and defined that they can built a base for further standardisation activities in the foundry business. Furthermore, additional standardization efforts on VDMA and OPC Foundation level are being made, to realize common standards across different industry sectors. The methods and standards which will be developed during the next months and years will allow a wide-spread use.
 

Thank you for the interview and good luck on your way to the digital future!

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