Efficient industrial communication is an essential prerequisite for flexible reconfiguration and resilience in Industry 4.0. To realize this, companies and industry associations have been relying on OPC UA since 2008. However, the configuration and commissioning of OPC UA clients, servers, publishers and subscribers requires IT expertise, which is rare and expensive. This makes the use of OPC UA a significant cost driver, especially for SMEs, and prevents them from successfully participating in the digital transformation of industrial manufacturing. As a result, the industry loses a lot of potential that can be unlocked by enabling SMEs to use OPC UA. To do so, it is necessary to reduce the gap between the expertise of industrial domain experts who want to deploy OPC UA and the computer science expertise of experts who can put OPC UA into operation. In LCUSE, we will develop model-driven low-code concepts, methods, and tools that close this gap for popular OPC UA use cases so that domain experts from SMEs are empowered to use OPC UA efficiently.
For Industry 4.0, communication and data transmission between operating technology (OT) and information technology (IT) are essential. In order to create a sustainable, reconfigurable and flexible production environment, the networking of communication participants must not be an effort and cost driver. The German Engineering Federation (VDMA) and the German Machine Tool Builders' Association (VDW) therefore rely on the OPC UA standard as the technical solution for communication and data transmission. In this environment, the data models transmitted via OPC UA are also being standardized internationally for various industries. In order to benefit from this standardization, users with an OPC UA-enabled machine park must first determine what added value (use case) is to be achieved through communication. In order to use the data from the OPC UA models, the connection of all communication participants must first be realized on a technical level: OPC UA offers various options to match the respective advantages and disadvantages to possible use cases, e.g. different communication paradigms (client/server, publish/subscribe) and security options (e.g. integration of public key infrastructures (PKI)). In the next step, the information required for the use case must be defined and identified in the data provided by OPC UA. As soon as users in the OT area use different kinds of machinery, the data differs between the machines. Currently, there are over 90 specifications for specific data models. Thus, expertise is required to correctly interpret and share the data for different manufacturing techniques. Finally, the information can be used in terms of the use case, which involves further configuration and development efforts. The information must be interpreted from data that must be technically read, transmitted, cached and transformed. For SMEs in particular, in-house communication with OPC UA is difficult due to the neet for this knowledge. Access to basic technologies of digital production and software-defined manufacturing (SdManu) is barred to SMEs because adequately trained computer scientists are scarce on the labor market. In addition to complexity and multidisciplinarity, the existing knowledge in companies and the training of personnel are current challenges for software development in Industry 4.0.
The goal of the USE project is to bring the results of OPC UA standardization to the industry. Flexibility shall be maintained and, at the same time, the Low-Code Universal Setup Environment (LCUSE) shall make the configuration and generation of specific OPC UA-based solutions possible for the users. An SME with its Citizen Developers should be able to interconnect its existing machines and realize a use case using the SaaS solution in half a day. In LCUSE, the user can select a use case. LCUSE then automates the steps of machine connection, selection and linking of data to the use case ([[Figure 1]], below). For this purpose, frequent cross-company and cross-industry use cases are collected and evaluated in LCUSE in collaboration with the participating companies. The selected use cases should enable dynamic and sustainable production in the sense of SdManu, as well as provide digital mapping and monitoring of the production process. The process for defining and implementing such use cases will be elaborated, described and made accessible to LCUSE using appropriate low-code modeling techniques.