One thing I like about blogging is that you can call something by its real name. Last month my business partner and our Alpha Geek, Byron Shetler, attended the OPC Foundation’s Interoperability Conference 2010. When we refer to it in a press release, we call it by its formal name.

But in this blog I can call it what it really was: a Geek Fest.

What is a “Geek Fest,” you ask? At one time we had a picture, but it was hosted up at the OPC Foundation and they removed it.

So, imagine a crowded hotel conference room. There is a tangle of network cables and power strips and half-empty coffee cups tells. Two tables. Maybe 45 people. Ear buds jammed in ears cranking out tunes. Hands on foreheads in deep thought. All crammed in a conference room with enough computing power to launch a rocket.

And just in case you were wondering – it is all guys.

So why did we go to this particular Geek Fest, and what did we accomplish?

OPC is an open connectivity standard that defines how shop floor equipment and manufacturing software communicate with each other. Think of how printer drivers make it possible for all the software on your computer to communicate with your printer. OPC does the same thing for shop floor controls and equipment.

We developed the OPC interface to GainSeeker Suite a few years ago, and wrote up a nice case study about how the GainSeeker OPC interface was so easy to deploy and saved a customer a lot of money.

At the time, we tested the interface with two of the most important vendors of OPC drivers (Kepware and Matrikon). We used them because they provide stand-alone demo systems. We needed the demo system because we can’t implement a full-fledged factory information system. After all, we don’t have a factory. And as our customers have implemented the solution we’ve verified that it works with GE Fanuc, Rockwell Automation, and several others.

Recently, the OPC Foundation has been pushing hard for vendors to test their systems at an interoperability workshop. The workshop runs for a full week. It isn’t a trivial commitment.

(As a side note, I have to mention that before the Foundation started pushing interoperability testing, several of our direct competitors were members of the OPC Foundation. Last time I checked, they had all dropped off the list. Now if you search for “SPC” on the Foundation website, we’re the only fully featured SPC system vendor listed. Everyone else has an all-encompassing factory management system that happens to include a control chart somewhere in their product.)

These workshops bring vendors together from all around the world so that you can really test the interoperability of your system in all kinds of conditions. At the workshop, Byron was able to test the interface with software from these vendors:

  • Yokogawa Electric Corp.
  • Takebishi Corp.
  • Software Toolbox
  • Siemens AG
  • OSISoft, Inc.
  • MSIndustrie Software GmbH
  • MatrikonOPC
  • Kepware Technologies
  • InduSoft LLC
  • GE Intelligent Platforms
  • Emerson Process Management

We weren’t surprised that the testing went smoothly. But it was great to conduct so many tests at one time. Byron says he built a database of OPC servers and tags, and then wrote a template in GainSeeker Suite that let him select a server and put it through its paces. Once he had the infrastructure set up, he could conduct a new test in a matter of minutes.

And as Byron put it: “Our testing addressed all of the functionality that we need to support our customers. It was cool to get all these companies in one room, bang on each other’s software, and prove that everything works as advertised.”

Did you get that? “It was cool to bang on each other’s software.”

That’s what I call a Geek Fest!

If you’re not looking for a Geek Fest, but you are looking for an easy way to get to process data, OPC may be the way to go. Use the ShareThis button below to mark this page, leave a comment, tweet me, schedule a conversation, or call 800-958-2709.