Industry leaders found UniversalAutomation.org

Nov. 29, 2021

Industrial leaders joined together to form UniversalAutomation.org (UAO) in an effort to advance the world of industrial automation. Vendors, end users, OEMs and academics will share a common automation software layer across their automation technology regardless of brand. This technological collaboration will drive the development of an ecosystem of portable, interoperable, “plug and produce” solutions, creating an entirely new category of industrial automation.

Portability is already a reality in other market sectors. For example, mobile applications are developed to run across different smartphone vendors, enabling rapid advances through collective innovation. Until now, the industrial world has worked differently, with closed proprietary architectures and hardware-dependent software. UniversalAutomation.org will create a new era of openness and collaboration, decoupling software and hardware by sharing a reference runtime implementation of the IEC 61499 standard.

“We are excited to be part of UniversalAutomation.org because it promises to be a complete gamechanger,” said Jac Opmeer, principal automation engineer at Shell Global Solutions B.V. “It opens up a new world of possibilities for organizations like ours. Unlocking valuable data currently buried in proprietary systems, making the connectivity and deployment of new technologies like AI quick and simple. As part of UniversalAutomation.org we are actively collaborating with and supporting like-minded organizations to create an exciting new open era in operations and automation.”

UAO will provide the basis for interoperable and portable automation software that can run with almost any universal automation-compliant hardware, creating an entirely vendor-agnostic ecosystem for automation software development. By merging both the information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) worlds, the organization seeks to unleash the full potential of Industry 4.0.

“The creation of UniversalAutomation.org is the dawn of a new era within automation technology; over the course of the next five years, it will create a sea change for the future of automation software development,” said Dmitrii Drozdov, chief technology officer at Flexbridge. “We are delighted to be a part of UniversalAutomation.org, driving the development of a plug-and-produce system, which will help the industry keep up with the increasing demands of flexible manufacturing. There is no doubt that as members continue to join the organization and reap the benefits of collaboration and openness, that industry-wide change will follow.”

Valeriy Vyatkin, professor of Electrical Engineering, Aalto University, added: “UniversalAutomation.org brings together vendors and users of technology, opening up the opportunity for continuous dialogue between members to share their knowledge. We’re excited to work with other members to enhance and develop our research and help combat the challenges currently facing industry. The IEC 61499 standard will help industry have a common platform for different types of software functionalities in automation, allowing organizations to achieve a certain level of reliability and predictability, as well as increasing flexibility of production plants.”

German Carmona, president of Wood’s Applied Intelligence business, said: “Wood is excited to be part of defining the future of automation and transforming profitability and productivity for the customers in our industrial markets. UAO technology will enable business innovation, increased digital adoption and agility with its open, interoperable and portable solutions-building business resiliency and empowering our clients to be future-ready.” 

Current founding and intended members if UAO include: Aalto University, Advantech, Asus, Belden, Cargill, eaw Relaistechnik GmbH, ESA, ETP, Flexbridge, Georgia-Pacific, GR3N, Hirschmann, HTW Berlin, Intel, Jetter, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Kongsberg Maritime, Lawrence Technological University, Lumberg Automation, Phoenix Contact, ProSoft, R. Stahl, Schneider Electric, Shell, VP Process, Wilo, Wood and Yokogawa. Others are expected to join soon, with the organization actively recruiting new members.

Members are working together to develop and adopt the next generation of universal automation solutions by collectively incrementing a runtime following shared source principles. Members will have access and the ability to shape the next generation of automation. UAO is actively recruiting new members. All entities looking to help advance industrial automation are encouraged to join.

Time for universal automation

“Industrial operations are undergoing a total transformation,” said John Conway, president of UAO. “As the IT sector has proven, advances in machine learning, augmented reality, real-time analytics, and the IoT hold great promise for step change advancements in performance, agility, and sustainability. However, within industry this promise is being held back by closed and proprietary automation platforms that restrict widespread adoption, hamper innovation, are challenging to integrate with third-party components, and are expensive to upgrade and maintain. Using a shared runtime changes all that.”

Greg Boucaud, chief marketing officer of UAO added: “With the formation of UniversalAutomation.org, we are hitting the reset button on automation technology. Using the IEC 61499 standard for distributed systems, we can create a new, open industrial environment that will lead to a more sustainable, efficient future. UniversalAutomation.org will remove the barriers to innovation in automation by decoupling hardware and software and providing end users with the freedom they have been asking for — to easily integrate different technologies regardless of where they came from and fully optimize their automation systems.”

Public Industry advancement with interoperable automation software

Adopting a common runtime, shared across vendors, will provide opportunities for growth and modernization across industry. The ARC Advisory Group found this move could save the industrial market $30 billion each year, which is currently spent servicing and maintaining the installed base of proprietary systems alone. UAO members anticipate the adoption of this reference implementation-based approach to industrial automation to deliver a range of benefits, including:

  • Portability and reuse of software components on different systems, improving return-on-investment for software intellectual property (IP)
  • Greater innovation through the faster integration of new technologies and systems, development of new business models, easier connectivity, and flexibility to deliver customer requirements at greater speed
  • Extending the lifespan of existing industrial tools, devices and systems, and easier upgrading of systems reaching their end of life
  • Simplified training and skills (with teams only needing to learn one common system), making automation industry OT entry more accessible to IT professionals and the new generation of automation professionals
  • Development of AppStore-like platforms to share apps around automation applications

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