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A New Auto-ID Integration Standard Could Play a Big IoT Role

An OPC UA companion standard being developed by AIM and the OPC Foundation represents an important step toward greatly simplifying the integration of identification systems, and could thus become an essential base for the Internet of Things.
By Markus Weinlaender
Jan 11, 2015

The integration of automatic-identification systems will be greatly simplified and standardized, thanks to a planned communication standard based on the OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA). Since the spring of 2014, the systems integration workgroup of the industrial association AIM Deutschland, together with the OPC Foundation, has been jointly developing a so-called companion standard to OPC UA.

When it comes to optimizing production or logistics, the automatic identification of all kinds of objects continues to be an important issue.

Accordingly, strong growth of the auto-ID market is expected—the experts of ARC Advisory mention an annual increase of 15 percent for RFID alone. Nevertheless, obstacles to broader adoption do exist. One of these is the expensive and complex integration of RFID or code-reading technology into the various background systems. Today, roughly 25 percent of the project costs are spent on RFID services, which also include integration into the IT or automation environment. One reason for this is the lack of a widely accepted standard covering both the different reading devices and the various host systems, such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs) or IT systems.

The resulting disadvantages are considerable. Although reading devices from different manufacturers are indeed standardized with regard to how code is captured, a separate driver must be executed for each device in order to establish communications to the next system level. Once a user has chosen the components from one manufacturer, it is very costly to use another company's components—which, for example, may be better suited for certain special applications. Employing different auto-ID methods in hybrid applications (bar codes and RFID, for example) also results in significant additional costs.

Figure 1: Standardized integration is required for auto-ID solutions to achieve further market penetration.
Moreover, system environments are becoming increasingly heterogeneous. While auto-ID installations tended, in the past, to be closed applications—for instance, RFID readers that communicate directly with a PLC to control a production line—the widespread use of automatic identification is leading to a large number of systems requiring data from the identification. If, for example, a part is marked with a data matrix code, this code can be utilized to control the goods-receipt posting, quality testing of the part, verification of the code quality, material-flow management and warehousing, as well as a product's mounting and installation. However, there are different management and control systems for all of these tasks.

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