Discrete Industry Leaders Discuss Successful Digital Transformation Strategies at ARC Forum

By Sharada Prahladrao


The session on Strategies for Connecting Thousands of Factory Assets at the 2021 ARC Industry Forum elicited interesting perspectives on the imperatives of asset connectivity and collaboration to accelerate digital transformation strategies. Introducing the topic, ARC Advisory Group’s Vice President Craig Resnick said that the first step on the digital transformation journey is to ensure that there is asset connectivity, which is essential to implement Industry 4.0/Industrial IoT solutions. When production lines, machines, equipment, systems, and people are connected, digital transformation delivers organizational value. Connectivity provides a single version of the truth and helps to optimize asset, operations, and enterprise performance. Several speakers from leading automotive manufacturers and standards organizations discussed various tools and solutions that have helped discrete manufacturers achieve greater interoperability and operational resilience.

Speakers: Peter Lutz, Director, Field Level Communications, OPC Foundation; Andreas Faath, Head of Interoperability, VDMA; Thierry Daneau, Automation and Robotics Expert, Renault; and Dr. Julian Backhaus, Head DevOps Team IoT & Edge Computing, BMW Group.

Panelists: Erich Barnstedt, Chief Architect, Standards & Consortia, Azure IoT, Microsoft; Charlie Sheridan, Global Technical Director, Google Cloud Manufacturing Industry Solutions, Google.

OPC UA Contributes to the Digital Transformation of Discrete Industries

The vision of the OPC Foundation and the Field Level Communications (FLC) initiative is to provide an open, unified, standards based Industrial IoT communication solution that addresses many requirements of industrial automation digital transformation strategies(factory and process automation), said Peter Lutz of the OPC Foundation. By using OPC UA (unified architecture), bidirectional industrial interoperability between the field and the cloud is achieved; and information is available and accessible in a secure and flexible manner, supporting IT/OT convergence. Comparing the traditional automation pyramid model with the OPC UA model, it is evident that the new approach is more flexible and harmonized.

The OPC Foundation with its FLC initiative is extending OPC UA to cover many requirements of industrial automation that includes Ethernet TSN, SPE, APL (and in the future, 5G, Wi-Fi, etc.). More than 300 technical experts from over 60 member companies of the OPC Foundation are active in the Technical Working Groups; and 27 companies are represented in the Steering Committee of the FLC initiative. Peter spoke about Ethernet TSN (Time-Sensitive Networking), a key technology for industrial automation and provided a technology overview of FLC work items and dependencies, including the creation of device-specific profiles with a toolbox. To speed up developments, the OPC Foundation is also cooperating and collaborating with other non-profit organizations, such as Profibus, ODVA, and Sercos.

Interoperability for Factory Automation

Andreas Faath of VDMA spoke about the organization’s efforts and results for factory automation and OPC UA’s companion specifications. The VDMA represents the broad machine building/manufacturing industry and represents over 3,300 companies in the mechanical engineering industry. Andreas spoke about VDMA’s specification requirements (communication on an open platform, security by design, support of different protocols, and semantical machine description) and expected user benefits (manufacturer independent communication, reduction of interfaces and supported protocols, plug and work, condition monitoring and predictive maintenance, and production optimization) of standardized interfaces for the mechanical engineering industry. OPC UA as a solution meets these VDMA specification requirements, said Andreas, and explained the phases of development, giving the example of the VDMA OPC robotics initiative for its eventual use in industry. Andreas spoke about the process to get domain specific harmonized information models that are based on OPC UA’s meshed and cross-domain communication network as well as the different specifications of the working group and interoperability between all the layers.   

Standards for the Future

Giving an overview of his company, Thierry Daneau of Renault said that the company has five brands and one alliance (Renault Nissan Mitsubishi). Groupe Renault has 38 production sites and 13 logistics sites in 16 countries with over 115,000 employees. In 2016-17 the company began its digital transformation journey, and the main pillars of transformation were: real-time data driven operations, full track and trace, flexible supply chain and plant, Industry Data Management 4.0, and the connected workforce. Thierry cited a few real-time examples and explained how one standard must be the backbone that supports data, functional needs, and what the user is looking for. The common target at Renault is “collect once and use many.” Industrial data capture is in two layers – data referential and data acquisition. To overcome the challenges and achieve success, Renault deploys the OPC UA+ data model. Thierry showed how the operational layers (Unified Data Collector, Data Flow Platform, and data lake) are connected. The company’s Industry Data Management 4.0 breaks down supply chain data silos, which results in improved performance and provides a competitive edge. Thierry described the company’s future vision, which includes:

  • Creation of an international standard to share data models.
  • Rapid deployment of AI/ML models.


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Keywords: ARC Industry Forum, Automotive, Asset Connectivity, Digital Transformation, Cloud, Edge, COVID-19, Standards, ARC Advisory Group.

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