Publisher’s Road Notes: Educating the manufacturing workforce

March 7, 2018
A conversation with OPC Foundation's Tom Burke.
By Tony D’Avino, Smart Industry publisher

Digitalization has fast become a priority initiative among growth-oriented manufacturing companies. Fostering the integration of IT technologies across the complete value chain—from product-design to production to maintenance—is the work at hand.

OPC-UA provides semantic interoperability for the smart world of connected systems. Very popular within industry, OPC-UA is now taking center stage within the world of Industrie 4.0 and the Internet of Things.

I caught up with Tom Burke, president and executive director of the OPC Foundation, during an OPC-UA event at the Timken Faircrest Facility in Canton, OH. We chatted about educating the manufacturing workforce, driving industry standards and his favorite globetrotting destinations. Take a look…

Smart Industry: When did OPC start taking education to manufacturing facilities?

Tom: We've been doing seminars across international boundaries since almost the beginning of OPC in 1995. But in the last several years I've been focusing on opportunities to evangelize the OPC UA message to end users. I get requests on a weekly basis from companies that are trying to make products from competitive vendors work together. It's so important that we work with and educate the end-users at their facilities about the value proposition of open standards, specifically OPC UA. 

Smart Industry: What are the main objectives of on-site seminars?

OPC Foundation Tom Burke

Tom: Making sure we’re developing and working with the customers solving the problems that end-users want. It's important that we don't develop standards that are not worth the paper they are printed on. I always measure success by the level of adoption, and at these training seminars we get a mixture of end-users and suppliers. The advantage of doing it at manufacturing facilities is that it's a smaller, focused audience that is not intimidated and is willing to ask questions and understand the technology. It's interesting, we also find out that many of these manufacturing facilities do much of their own software-development, in addition to using commercial off-the-shelf solutions from OPC suppliers. (I prefer this approach; it's hard to do a webinar and ask a question and pick on someone in the audience to get the same response you’d get when you do these in-person). We are also exploring virtual training. 

Smart Industry: Are you able to tell if these sessions spur adoption?

Tom: Working with end-users in a variety of industries definitely increases adoption. For example, I'm working with a number of oil-and-gas companies across multiple initiatives who are driving standardization of their own complex information models, which fit directly into the OPC UA information-model architecture. A number of people at the Timken event approached me to better understand how to take their data models and be able to use the OPC UA technology. I often see that even end-users are trying to standardize on their own data-modeling across the plant, and they're recognizing that OPC UA provides a convenient mechanism to enable generic applications to discover and operate on their own data models.

Smart Industry: What are your plans for these kinds of events for the remainder of 2018?

The Timken Faircrest Facility in Canton, OH

Tom: Many of the events we do don't get publicized because they are private sessions for individual end-users. We don't even publish this program on our website. But we regularly host our generic OPC day in a city, then we do specialized training for the end-users. OPC does it for free and then, for those people that need more, we refer them to dedicated vendors that offer training services independent of product solutions. Last year I did 20 of these local, customized end-user trainings across the United States. I guess it's time to publicize it a little bit, allowing end-users to schedule my staff to come to their facility. I always enjoy going to the plants and I spent a lot of time in my early career at Rockwell visiting global customers, not to mention participating in many startups. Quite often we get a tour of the facility as part of one of these events; I love to see manufacturing operations in action.

Tom Burke leading a session at the Timken Facility

Smart Industry: Your work takes you all around the world—what’s your favorite destination?

Tom: That's a difficult question. I travel extensively internationally and my favorite place is Japan, primarily because of their culture and experiences. I know the Tokyo train system like the back of my hand, although my colleagues in Japan rarely let me venture out on my own. They always meet me at my hotel and then escort me on trains to wherever we are going. I also enjoy going to places in Europe that are somewhat out-of-the-way. For example, it's always exciting to go to Prague, where there is a Rockwell office at which I have hosted OPC UA meetings. From a North American perspective, Dallas has a special place in my heart because we spent countless hours in 1995 and early 1996 locked up developing OPC data access. When we first started OPC, our task force always met at the same hotel near the Dallas airport. We must have had 20 meetings there.

Want more? Get in touch with Thomas at [email protected]

We're thinking about your digital transformation in 2018...are you? Learn about the 2018 Smart Industry Conference here.