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Dr. Alexander Broos, VDW

Umati: linking the old and the new


Image caption: Dr. Alexander Broos, VDW.

What is the best way to connect old machines to new systems? This was the question that spurred umati, the connectivity initiative of the mechanical and equipment engineering industry, to organise a hackathon in cooperation with the international United Grinding Group. A total of 30 digitalisation experts from 17 companies attended the networking event in Steffisburg, Switzerland. The main focus of the hackathon was on bringing together experts to enable the exchange of data between existing (or brownfield) machine and software systems.

Umati (universal machine technology interface) is the global initiative for open communication interfaces for the machine building industry and its customers. Machine makers, software manufacturers, component suppliers and users have joined forces to create a strong community aimed at promoting the use of open, standardised interfaces based on OPC UA Companion Specifications. Umati enables the exchange of data between machines, components and systems, and their integration into customer and user-specific IT ecosystems simply, seamlessly and securely.

Dr. Alexander Broos, Head of Research and Technology, VDW (German Machine Tool Builders' Association) and the umati project manager, is pleased about the effective continuation of the work:

"We were able to build on the successful launch in 2022 and also welcomed many new participants on board. The hackathon has attracted three further partners to the umati community. This shows us that there is still plenty of work to do in bringing about the intelligent networking of machines. More and more experts are recognizing how we need to collaborate across corporate boundaries, and which opportunities umati can offer in achieving our common goal."

The participants formed a total of five teams and were able to test the implementation of OPC UA for Machine Tools for connecting up older machines. They were supported by United Grinding Group, Grob-Werke GmbH & Co. KG from Mindelheim and Wago GmbH & Co. KG from Minden which provided components for retrofitting.

In addition, one of the groups was able to pre-test use of the soon-to-be-available OPC UA for Power Consumption Management Companion Specification for machine tools, gaining valuable insights that will be fed back into the standardisation process. The same applies to the participants of the hackathon.

Contributing to the further development of OPC UA specifications with practical experience from the field and also supporting rapid implementation are some of the core tasks of umati. Ten mechanical and plant engineering subsectors have already joined forces in umati with their own individual OPC UA Companion Specifications.

“The results from the individual working groups showed that umati allows even existing machines to provide standardised data. This was a textbook case of turning theory into practice," explained Christian Josi, Head of Digital Engineering & Digital Solutions, United Grinding, summing up the hackathon. Umati is set to continue this series of events to drive forward the development work and to network the industry. The next event is planned to coincide with EMO Hannover in September 2023.

Umati is supported by VDW and VDMA and is based on OPC UA, a framework for communication among shop-floor devices. Standardised data models defined in OPC UA Companion Specifications can be extended to include customer or vendor-specific data. Around 25 Companion Specifications have already been published for various engineering technologies such as robotics, measuring systems, woodworking, machine tools etc. Thirty more are currently in the pipeline. The central "OPC UA for Machinery" Companion Specification contains basic building blocks – such as identification, job control and energy monitoring – that are crucial for the entire machinery and plant engineering industry.

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