The OPC Foundation* explains how its digitalised communication interface OPC UA (see above) could eliminate manual programming and increase plant efficiency for the flat glass industry.
Digital transformation has long since taken hold of the flat glass industry and is progressing rapidly. An increasing number of people are monitoring manufacturing processes rather than doing the jobs themselves.
Skilled labour shortage, growing demands for the flexibility of machinery and equipment, as well as increasing sustainability requirements, need intelligent monitoring of production processes.
Producers can generate added value by pursuing a mechatronic1 approach. It is therefore essential to focus on data and intelligent human-machine, machine-human communication and the communication between machine and software. A growing number of machines and operating software from different manufacturers need to communicate with each other.
Currently, most of the interfaces required for this communication are still implemented as custom solutions, but this involves investing a lot of time and money in programming individual interfaces.
The foundation's Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC UA) could provide a standardised, manufacturer-independent and inter-operable communication standard for the industry.
(1) A branch of engineering that unties mechanics, electronics and computing.
A new communication standard
OPC UA transmits machine data such as controlled variables and measured values and has the ability to describe these semantically in a machine-readable format. Developed in the USA, the standard is now gaining increasing importance in Europe.
A cross-sectoral study published in 2021 by the VDMA (German Engineering Federation) found over 90% of those surveyed saw a need for interoperable2 interfaces.
According to the survey, the dissolution of proprietary interfaces is of the greatest strategic importance, as this is what makes plug and produce possible in the first place.
Estimates suggest 10% to 12% of plants in the glass industry are equipped with this platform. Demand for OPC UA, however, also relies heavily on the target market.
Peter Seidl, Head of Product Management Business Unit Glass at Grenzebach, said: “Our lines are already fitted with this communication standard. However, demand for it in Asia is still of secondary importance compared to Europe.”
In addition, integration of OPC UA without the associated Companion Specification cannot reach its full potential. The connected machines and systems can only exchange information when the specification is installed, otherwise they cannot understand the interface; they’re effectively speaking different languages to each other.
To solve this problem for the flat glass industry, manufacturers and software providers are involved in a Joint Working Group (JWG) of the VDMA and the OPC Foundation. The latter has worked out the first Companion Specification for the flat glass processing, which was published at the OPC Foundation in November 2021. This specification has been applied to production management.
“With this spec, we no longer have to worry about how we communicate but only what we communicate,” said Mr Seidl.
(2) Computer systems or software that are able to exchange and make use of information.
As well as saving time and money, the specification will also allow for individual tests during commissioning. This is especially important for employees confronted with growing plant flexibility demands.
Tobias Wachtmann, Head of Vertical Glass & Solar at Siemens, said: “Manufacturers are required to adapt their production to new orders with varying batch sizes at ever shorter intervals.”
OPC UA can facilitate these issues, as manual programming is eliminated and the number of different interfaces is greatly reduced. The integration of machines or components into existing production lines is also much easier and faster, increasing overall plant efficiency.
OPC UA also simplifies adding new facilities or expansions. Current production data assists in planning maintenance and improves resource efficiency while cutting response time in the event of errors.
The communication interface also ensures data protection through its security mechanisms. For example, messages can be transmitted in an encoded format across various levels, as well as signatures and authentication.
At present, the use of OPC UA in the glass industry is still a small piece of the puzzle. Dr. Markus Schoisswohl, General Manager at Hegla New Technology and a chairman at the JWG, believes digitalisation must be manageable.
Mr Wachtmann shared this belief in his own statement: “We must not leave our co-workers behind but make them understand the benefit that the data transmitted by OPC UA brings.”
Experts predict OPC UA will become established in the glass industry in a several years.
The companies involved in the JWG plan to exhibit OPC UA at glasstec 2022 this September in Düsseldorf, Germany, among other events.
Demonstrations will showcase how OPC UA can positively impact plant efficiency and resource consumption.
glasstec is the world's leading trade fair for the industry with over 1000 exhibitors from 50 countries. Topics such as glass production, processing technologies, new glass products and innovative craft processing will make up its extensive programme.
The trade fair will be held 20-23 September at the Messe Düsseldorf exhibition centre.
*OPC Foundation, Scottsdale, USA, https://opcfoundation.org/
glasstec 2022: https://www.glasstec-online.com/
glasstec 2018 image source: Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann