OPC UA NPE 2024 – What’s in it for the Customer?

Tony Marchelletta Sumitomo (SHI) Demag

OPC UA  NPE 2024 – What’s in it for the Customer?

“An educational initiative for OPC UA must be launched”

Industry interview with Tony Marchelletta, National Sales Manager Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Plastics Machinery N.A.

Does Sumitomo Demag already offer its customers injection molding machines with an OPC UA interface?
Yes, it has been available in some of our higher-end models for a few years now. Especially those that are manufactured in Europe. Last year, we also added OPC UA to our standard Japanese-built SE-EV-S model, which we mainly sell in the US. It has always had an Ethernet connection, and now we simply transfer the data automatically via the OPC UA interface.

Where does OPC UA offer the greatest improvement over other interfaces?
I think at its core it’s about standardization. Many third-party providers have had a wide variety of plant monitoring systems for decades, but each has its own proprietary way of communicating and transmitting data. For us as an OEM, it has always been a challenge to keep our software engineers and also our hardware engineers up to date so that we always have the right interface for the machine. I think everyone was hoping that we would finally have a common language, a way to communicate not only with the injection molding machines but also with the periphery equipment and automation.What challenges does the widespread of OPC UA face in the USA?
The biggest challenge is the large number of machines that we or our customers have to deal with. Machines come here from all over the world. From Europe, India, Taiwan, China, Japan, Korea. There is no real common ground. Not even in the interfaces. The same applies to the installation of plant monitoring systems or ML systems. They are all still rooted in their respective methods. And then the machines and systems are of different ages. I have customers who operate machines that we built over 30 years ago. They are still mechanically sound. The customer wonders why they should replace them. It’s a different story with brand new machines. Ten years ago, I had a customer who wanted to use OPC UA in his plant. He was very enthusiastic about the possibilities and wanted to be prepared for the future. But he also had the luxury of building a brand new plant network. Ten years ago, this customer was quite alone in his knowledge. Another obstacle to the slow spread of the new interface is that although there is now a lot of talk about OPC UA, hardly anyone can actually do anything with it. The benefits are not yet apparent.

Will the major control system providers also jump on the OPC UA bandwagon?
Definitely. If they don’t, it could be disastrous for them. Sooner or later, OPC UA will become the common language. Not everyone in the world speaks Siemens, not everyone speaks Rockwell, but everyone will be able to communicate with OPC UA. Control manufacturers will still be able to offer unique technologies. I think there will still be some differentiators that can protect their interests.

How likely is it that the acceptance of OPC UA will increase in the United States in the medium term?
It would make our lives as OEMs easier if OPC UA were already a universally accepted protocol. But I think it will still take some time. There are many systems that are simply not able to communicate with OPC UA. There is still a lot that is unknown, especially in the North American market. Everyone has heard of OPC UA, but no one really knows what it is. What can it do? What can you do with it?

I think there definitely needs to be a big educational initiative here. The first step would be to inform the plant managers and motivate them to get involved. But they often don’t have the employees they need. It’s a lot of work, especially when many devices have to be connected to the one protocol.

That’s why it will be a while before OPC UA is widely implemented at plant level here in North America.

Could the NPE be a good place to start with the education initiative?
Yes, absolutely. It’s the definitive show in North America for our industry. There will be a lot of visitors, the largest audience is here. That’s why the NPE is a great platform and a great channel to spread the message of OPC UA. Of course, you still have to go to the companies later and explain to the people there in personal discussions how they can integrate OPC UA into their plant system in concrete terms. But the start has been made with the NPE.

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