“OPC UA delivers significant client process simplification”

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“OPC UA delivers significant client process simplification”

Industry interview with Georg Kiesl, General Manager, Billion SAS

Mr. Kiesl, why is Billion working to promote the OPC UA standard in the USA?
For us, the biggest advantage is interoperability, which enables the use of different machine types, but also different brands of the same type within a factory’s digital network. This interoperability is a basic building block for many existing concepts, such as predictive maintenance – plus it is extremely important for future concepts. One single system for the entire factory, into which everything can be integrated, is a major advantage, and also the reason why we are strongly in favour of it.

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That said, you and the other players in the plastics machinery industry will initially incur costs for your efforts. 
Yes, there are advance payments on our part, that are necessary to win our customers over. Networking machines with digital instruments as part of Industry 4.0 has been around for some time. Until now however, it has often been the case that everyone has tried to bring their own approaches closer to the customer. These are always individual implementations with individual communication protocols. By launching a standardised product, we can make it clear to customers that it will simplify their processes. It is true that OPC UA entails initial implementation efforts, but all subsequent steps are much simpler because the implementation logic remains the same. This means that the implementation costs for the second, third or fourth application are significantly lower.

The manufacturers of injection moulding machines have been working on the so-called Companion Specifications for a long time. What is the current status?
From our perspective, the basic framework has been established. There are basic Companion Specifications, plus we already have customers who are utilising them. At present, it’s a matter of expanding these specifications and adapting them to individual customer requirements, but because we have the basic concept, we can already demonstrate the benefits to customers. Our major French customer Schneider Electric is very much in favour of OPC UA. For example, they are looking to connect all the machines in their factories to their predictive maintenance tools, regardless of the machine type.

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Are American customers more risk-averse? 
American customers know very well that sooner or later they will not be able to avoid networking their systems. However, some aspects there are different to Europe: the market in the US is very dynamic and open to new technologies. As a result, you see a lot of technologies come and go there. That’s why American customers are more cautious and don’t want to jump    on the first bandwagon that comes along. We have to convince customers that OPC UA will still be around in five, ten or even twenty years’ time. It’s a standard that makes a lot of sense, and that’s why it’s here to stay. There is an initial implementation effort, but that will decrease over time.

In other words, the system is able to grow with little effort.
Exactly, and even if new Companion Standards materialise that are perhaps not yet foreseeable, the server-client logic will always remain the same. If everyone uses their own individual Industry 4.0 approach, then the basic logic will be so diverse that someone who wants or needs to connect multiple brands and machine types to their network will have to start from scratch every time. With OPC UA standards, there is an initial hurdle for the implementation, after which everything is reusable: this is the main point for our American customers to consider.

How important is it for Billion that American customers accept OPC UA?
It is very important for us for two reasons: firstly, the USA is a huge sales market. On the other hand – and this is even more important for us at Billion – the USA is a significant economic trendsetter. The American influence is very strong in North, Central and South America – regions in which Billion has multiple operations. American thinking and American standards are widespread there, which is why it’s important to have the Americans on board with OPC UA. If you’re really looking to create a global language for machines, you can’t bypass the Americans.

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