Manufacturers are looking to automation vendors to deliver systems and technologies that will help them create connected industries, smart factories, and integration with Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Automation vendors are looking for the latest technology that will give them a competitive advantage — improved scalability, performance, reliability, ease of use, and increased cost effectiveness. One technology that is paving the way to improvements across the board, is Ethernet with Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN).

To achieve a global smart factory, the key areas to consider include ensuring consistent quality and performance across global operations, balancing manufacturing with demand to optimize material usage and asset utilization, improving and meeting regulatory compliance, as well as implementing more flexible and agile manufacturing operations to respond to rapidly changing market conditions.

Meeting demanding requirements and metrics for on-time delivery through reduced mean-time-to-repair (MTTR) and increased overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), reducing the cost of design, deployment, and supporting manufacturing and information technology (IT) systems at global manufacturing plants are also important to consider.

Moving from Islands of Information to a Fully Open Architecture

A major obstacle that has previously hindered achieving these goals was existing industrial network systems’ inability to readily share information between different technologies. This led to data ‘islands,’ which prevented information from being shared effectively. Manufacturers of industrial automation control systems (IACSs) and their customers understand the value of the data produced in their factories, and therefore, require seamless access to that data to make smarter decisions to run their factory in the IIoT and Industry 4.0.

Hence, the kind of transparency required by Industry 4.0 applications is becoming the preferred approach. Taking terabytes of data from the shop floor and turning them into useful information is all part of the strategy. But more importantly it is being able to really solve customers’ problems with a complete solution-based architecture focused on IT/OT convergence.

Compatibility is More Important than Interoperability

Standardized protocols are improving the movement of data around IT and OT networks. But there is a class of communications, the control network, that have forced islands of data, as required for deterministic performance. To solve this problem, protocols need to be compatible with the new Ethernet TSN standard in order to deliver the benefits of converged networks while offering support for prioritized traffic. Companies implementing factory automation projects should ideally look for open network technologies that will address their current needs, such as responding to the demands of Industry 4.0 with gigabit bandwidth, while also providing compatibility with TSN.

The importance of TSN technology is reflected by the way that many standards bodies and industrial Ethernet organizations have quickly taken positions on incorporating it into their respective portfolios. Their work provides a solid foundation for data and information integration between all the complex, disparate devices and applications that have previously been disconnected.

Connecting disparate technologies and making things work from a seamless interoperable standpoint is required for end users to successfully build complete automation systems. Standardization allows these end users to design and deploy complete systems using products from a range of vendors.

TSN can provide many opportunities for convergence and interoperability. It can enable devices and applications, previously isolated to separate communications, to become part of a cohesive system. Different industrial Ethernet protocols can co-exist on the same network.

Standards Will Deliver Co-Existence

Various open industrial Ethernet associations, in addition to the OPC Foundation, have been working on adding TSN compatibility to their portfolios. The IEEE 802.1 group includes over 30 different standards, some of which may not apply to industrial use cases. It is clear that some agreement is required regarding which ones should be used for automation.

To address this, the IEC (international electrotechnical commission) and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) are working together to define a standard set of profiles for TSN in automation, based on an extensive set of use cases. This is known generically as IEC/IEEE 60802. However, many automation use cases are covered by the core IEEE 802.1AS and Qbv standards, which address time synchronization and prioritization, as we have already seen.

TSN can provide many opportunities for convergence and interoperability. It can enable devices and applications, previously isolated to separate communications, to become part of a cohesive system.

Vendors have already introduced products that incorporate these standards. Moreover, the IEC and IEEE have a track record of backward compatibility. Hence, any future standards will likely “grandfather” in any previous standards. The IEC/IEEE 60802 project is also planning to address the issue of TSN conformance testing. At least one open network organization is already offering this today and it is likely that these activities will be combined with future, wider-reaching programs that will also include other organizations.

Improving Control with TSN

So, what does a company convinced of the benefits of TSN and wanting to adopt it do now? The answer is to look for technology that supports TSN currently while providing the necessary application functionality, such as safety and motion control.

It’s been almost three years since CLPA introduced CC-Link IE TSN, which involved using the established open industrial Ethernet solution of CC-Link IE and adding TSN compatibility to it. That resulted in the world’s first open industrial Ethernet technology to combine gigabit bandwidth with TSN.

CC-Link IE TSN clearly provides the gateway to the future of open industrial Ethernet. End users, machine builders, and vendors now can adopt a proven technology in their respective products and projects. The ecosystem of development options that are available to vendors who want to offer CC-Link IE TSN-certified products is broad and flexible.

Compatible solutions from leading vendors such as Mitsubishi Electric are already available. For device vendors, developing CC-Link IE TSN compatible products now will shape the future of automation. CC-Link IE TSN helps to deliver the promise of Industry 4.0 in three key ways:

  • Performance: The only open industrial Ethernet currently available to combine gigabit bandwidth with TSN to provide the highest productivity via maximum bandwidth availability.

  • Connectivity: Being an open technology maximizes the freedom of choice for end users and machine builders, while also providing implementation flexibility for vendors. TSN takes openness one step further by offering the ability to combine CC-Link IE TSN traffic with that of other protocols.

  • Intelligence: Reduce engineering time and maximize uptime with a range of features intended to simplify system design and maintenance.

A New Era of Compatibility

What does this all mean to the end user, machine builder, or vendor who is still wondering what to do with TSN? Great minds and great innovators have recognized the value of this technology and continue to work with the IEEE to develop and enhance it. More importantly, vendors and standards organizations are adopting and pushing the TSN technology into their own standards and portfolios.

End users want choice, but at the same time, from a business value perspective, they expect that all of their networks and devices should coexist and be able to work together. This will allow data from all of these previously disconnected devices to be converted into useful information to provide a complete cohesive solution for industrial automation for today and tomorrow by leveraging TSN. In summary, the risk is not in adopting TSN now, but rather in waiting several more years to implement it while possibly watching competitors move ahead in the meantime.

TSN is the most significant technology for the future of industrial automation. It offers a number of opportunities, with the key ones being determinism and hence complete industrial and commercial network convergence. Network convergence is a key component addressing the challenge of greater transparency identified by Industry 4.0, allowing processes and manufacturing to be highly efficient, streamlined operations.

A Natural Addition to Automation Infrastructure

For current industrial automation projects, organizations need to investigate which technologies will address this challenge. Existing technologies that offer features, such as gigabit Ethernet, help with this. And of course, they should also be open. At the same time, it is important to keep an eye on the future. This means identifying current technologies that will support TSN. These are important, as they provide an upgrade path to TSN-enabled systems of the future.

The technology landscape surrounding TSN is continuing to evolve, with the activities from the IEEE and IEC resulting in new advancements. However, based on previous experience, there is a high degree of confidence that the TSN solutions that will be installed now will also work with the systems of tomorrow. Ethernet has been around for about 40 years and has continuously evolved over that time, which is why it is still in use today. Therefore, companies should not be afraid of implementing TSN now.

As we have already seen, adoption now will deliver a competitive advantage and you’ll avoid the risk of delaying and possibly watching competitors who take advantage of current solutions move ahead in the meantime. Groundbreaking technologies like TSN are going to continue to evolve to meet current needs while helping to shape the next industrial revolution.

This article was written by Thomas Burke, Global Strategic Advisor, CC-Link Partner Organization (Vernon Hills, IL). For more information, visit here .