Industrial Communications@EIF 2021: Developments Continue

By David Humphrey

Technology Trends

The ARC Industry Forum Europe 2021 “Accelerating Digital Transformation in a Post-COVID World” was held as a virtual event again, due to the ongoing epidemic. The digital event attracted participants from all sectors of industrial production. In this series of blogs, we are presenting you with the highlights from our forum.

Would you like to watch a session again? The presentation and panel discussion videos are now available on the ARC hosting platform until August 19 by clicking on “Presentations”. Furthermore, you can still visit sponsor booths by clicking on “Exhibit Hall”. ARC and Sponsors have also uploaded valuable videos and reports on this platform for you to add to your “vfairs briefcase”. If you have not attended the ARC Industry Forum in May, you can still register on the platform.  

Industrial Communications

In the distant past, the industrial communications space was dominated by fieldbus wars and competing protocols, but today, it’s more user-focused, cooperative, and yes, exciting! The forum session on industrial communications focused on OPC UA and wireless connectivity via IO-Link.

Industrial Communications

IO-Link generated a lot of interest when it was first announced about 15 years ago. Looking back, the technology was prescient in the way that created a path to transmit more information than simple control signals with existing hardware. Manu Peelman, process engineering manager at Cloostermans in Belgium, described how wireless connectivity with IO-Link enhances the packaging machines that his company produces. The company’s stated goals are to maximize flexibility, increase capacity, and support adaptive design. According to Manu, wired communication is not feasible for some motion control solutions, because cabled communication is complex and requires maintenance, thus limiting flexibility and agility. Instead, Cloostermans uses Wireless IO-Link to connect sensors along fast-moving transport track movers and conveying systems.

Manu told his audience that so far Wireless IO-Link has proven to be as reliable as cabled connections, is easy to deploy and integrate, is scalable, has low latency, and is deterministic and fully synchronized. The results include minimal changeover times, complexity reduction, predictive maintenance enablement, lower maintenance costs, a footprint reduction, and support for a variety of machine designs. The Wireless IO-Link solution that convinced Cloostermans is developed and marketed by CoreTigo.

The second part of the industrial communications session focused on OPC UA. Stefan Hoppe, president of the OPC Foundation, updated the audience on the myriad of activities at OPC. But more importantly, he shared the foundation’s vision for OPC UA driving the transformation from the automation pyramid to a universal information network that provides standardized information exchange, secured from end-to-end, and bypassing the traditional layers of proprietary protocols.

Erich Barnstedt of Microsoft amplified the OPC message when he described the danger of vendor lock-in. According to Erich, this happens when users are forced to use a proprietary interface, protocol or data model, or forced to run a solution in a specific data center or on specific hardware. Erich described how Microsoft’s Industrial IoT Stack provides full support for OPC UA. The company has been using OPC UA since 2015 for Industrial IoT and found it to be very efficient, especially since no data conversion in the cloud is required and automatic conversion at the edge is possible.

Erich went on to address the question “What about MQTT?” by describing how OPC UA leverages MQTT (and JSON on top of MQTT). He described how Microsoft’s Azure Industrial IoT Cloud Platform supports OPA UA in the cloud. Finally, he identified the “missing piece”: the UA Cloud Library. This is a cloud-based- scalable library for OPC UA information models that is accessible via a standardized, open interface. The UA Cloud Library allows the set-up of an analytics pipeline or cloud dashboard before connecting to the plant for the first time. It drives semantic interoperability through the reuse of existing information models, and finally, it allows the simulation and verification of information models before an industrial asset has been built.

We would like to thank all experts, panelists, and presenters of the "Industrial Communications" session at ARC Advisory Group European Industry Forum 2021. And a special thanks to all our sponsors: Global sponsor: Siemens; Gold sponsors: ANDRITZ, and OPC Foundation; and Silver sponsors: Capgemini, CC-Link, Optimistik, Orange Cyberdefense, PHOENIX CONTACT, and RapidMiner.

Presentations and panel discussion videos are available until August 19 for you watch at your convenience. We encourage you and your colleagues to login or register and watch the recordings on our platform: ARC Industry Forum Europe 2021 (


Engage with ARC Advisory Group