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Talking machines have been anchored in man’s imagination for over a hundred years. Already in the year 1927 “Metropolis” a film classics was published, in which a robot with human trains had been created. In the 1980s the talking car K.I.T.T., from the series “Knight Rider” with David Hasselhoff, became very famous. At that time, this idea was considered a pure wish-thinking. Around 90 years after the release of the masterpiece “Metropolis”, the dream has become reality: robots and machines are able to communicate with each other and with humans. Although a “conversation” does not look the same as between K.I.T.T. and David Haselhoff. But nevertheless, information can be sent to the “conversation partner” without any losses and can also be evaluated. This development is a milestone for the industry.

OPC UA – the uniform language

However, one thing is certain: without a suitable basis, no communication is possible. For how it could have been possible for David Hasselhoff aka Michael Knight and his car K.I.T.T. to talk with each other without speaking the same language? This is the same for machines. All need the same language: the data exchange standard OPC-UA (Open Platform Communications Unified Architechture). This standard not only unifies the systems, but also brings with it a great advantage: independence. Unlike its predecessors, OPC UA is no longer linked to a specific operating system. This is an important step on the way to a “smart factory”, whose intelligent, technical systems carry out the self-optimization of the production through self-analysis.

Data hub Orchestra

OPC UA allows the understanding of machines among each other. This means that information about a product can be stored centrally, but not more. So what is the advantage when data is available, but can not be processed? First of all none or if only a very minor. Therefore, the data must be translated and evaluated. For this, a powerful middleware, such as Orchestra, is indispensable. The data hub requires all information within a value chain and then transforms it for the IT systems. Finally, the networked system is able to send commands from the IT level to the plant level, or to respond to errors. This is illustrated in detail in the “bottle example”.

OPC-UA and Orchestra: the “bottle example”

A company fills bottles with water and closes it with lids. For simplicity, there are only three machines in the company, one “filling machine” and two “lid machines”, one of which is inactive. Both active systems are docked to the Middleware Orchestra via OPC UA. The data hub, in turn, is also connected to IT systems, including a website and an RQM system. Furthermore, there are two production steps within the company: filling the bottle with one liter of water and closing it with a lid. Now the bottle in the filling machine is filled with one liter of water. As soon as the bottle is full, the filling machine sends the data, in this case the filled quantity, to the OPC UA server. There, the information is stored temporarily. This data is requested and processed by Orchestra. The website then records the data and indicates that the bottle was filled with one liter of water. At the same time, the RQM system reads the information about the filling and decides whether the result is “OK” or “Not OK”. The assessment will then be returned.

Thus, the filling machine receives a message that the bottle can be forwarded to the next production step. Likewise, the lid machine also gets the information that a bottle arrives, either correctly or incorrectly filled, and can accordingly put a lid or not. In case of disturbances within the production process, Orchestra will also have to react as quickly as possible. If, for example, a problem message appears, the production is immediately redirected to the second cover machine, so that ultimately no production loss occurs.

The heart of the “Smart Factory”

This is how Orchestra looks in the simplified theory. The middleware, together with OPC UA, is the intermediary between the IT systems and the machines. True to the message of the film Metropolis “Mediator between brain and hands must be the heart”. “How the heart of the “SmartFactory” is applied in practice can be found in the white paper “With the OPC UA and Orchestra together into the future”.