The main use case for OPC standards is the online data exchange between devices and HMI or SCADA systems using Data Access functionality. In this use case the device data is provided by an OPC server and is consumed by an OPC client integrated into the HMI or SCADA system. OPC DA provides functionality to browse through a hierarchical namespaces containing data items and to read, write and to monitor these items for data changes. The classic OPC standards are based on Microsoft COM/DCOM technology for the communication between software components from different vendors. Therefore classic OPC server and clients are restricted to Windows PC based automation systems.
OPC UA incorporates all features of classic OPC standards like OPC DA, A&E and HDA but defines platform independent communication mechanisms and generic, extensible and object-oriented modelling capabilities for the information a system wants to expose.
The OPC UA network communication part defines different mechanisms optimized for different use cases. The first version of OPC UA is defining an optimized binary TCP protocol for high performance intranet communication as well as a mapping to accepted internet standards like Web Services. The abstract communication model does not depend on a specific protocol mapping and allows adding new protocols in the future. Features like security, access control and reliability are directly built into the transport mechanisms. Based on the platform independence of the protocols, OPC UA servers and clients can be directly integrated into devices and controllers.
The OPC UA Information Model provides a standard way for Servers to expose Objects to Clients. Objects in OPC UA terms are composed of other Objects, Variables and Methods. OPC UA also allows relationships to other Objects to be expressed.
The set of Objects and related information that an OPC UA Server makes available to Clients is referred to as its AddressSpace. The elements of the OPC UA Object Model are represented in the AddressSpace as a set of Nodes described by Attributes and interconnected by References. OPC UA defines eight classes of Nodes to represent AddressSpace components. The classes are Object, Variable, Method, ObjectType, DataType, ReferenceType and View. Each NodeClass has a defined set of Attributes.
Methods are used to represent commands or services of a system.
Properties are Server-defined characteristics of Objects, DataVariables and other Nodes. Properties are not allowed to have Properties defined for them. An example for Properties of Objects is the Object_Identifier Property of a BACnetObjectType.
DataVariables represent the contents of an Object. DataVariables may have component DataVariables. This is typically used by Servers to expose individual elements of arrays and structures. This specification uses DataVariables to represent data like the Present_Value of a BACnetAnalogInput Object.
OPC UA defines a graphical notation for an OPC UA AddressSpace. It defines graphical symbols for all NodeClasses and how different types of References between Nodes can be visualized. Figure 1 shows the symbols for the six NodeClasses used in this specification. NodeClasses representing types always have a shadow.
Figure 1 – OPC UA Graphical Notation for NodeClasses
Figure 2 shows the symbols for the ReferenceTypes used in this specification. The Reference symbol is normally pointing from the source Node to the target Node. The only exception is the HasSubType Reference. The most important References like HasComponent, 0:HasProperty, HasTypeDefi nition and HasSubType have special symbols avoiding the name of the Reference. For other ReferenceTypes or derived ReferenceTypes the name of the ReferenceType is used together with the symbol.
Figure 2 – OPC UA Graphical Notation for References
Figure 3 shows a typical example for the use of the graphical notation. Object_A and Object_B are instances of the ObjectType_Y indicated by the HasTypeDefinition References. The ObjectType_Y is derived from ObjectType_X indicated by the HasSubType Reference. The Object_A has the components Variable_1, Variable_2 and Method_1.
To describe the components of an Object on the ObjectType the same NodeClasses and References are used on the Object and on the ObjectType like for ObjectType_Y in the example. The instance Nodes used to describe an ObjectType are instance declaration Nodes.
Figure 3 – OPC UA Graphical Notation Example