Tom Burke, Global Strategic Advisor at the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA), explores key aspects of network communications for future-ready manufacturing facilities.
Already rapidly becoming a reality, the [email protected] of the future leverage the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to support intelligent data-driven operations. These facilities are configurations that can only work (and succeed) if they are based on openness, interoperability and interconnectivity. That’s why choosing the right network technology and protocols from an industry-leading organization is essential.
[email protected] are all data flows, which generate and transfer information about processes, equipment, and other assets to drive productivity, performance, and efficiency. This means that industrial communications can no longer be segmented, with parts of the business completely disengaged from others. Instead, converged networks are needed to realize the full potential of digital transformation strategies.
Standard communication solutions have certainly come a long way in enabling interconnectivity. However, the current situation is still fragmented, forcing machine builders and end users to carefully consider the individual characteristics of network technologies and available protocols when embarking on a digitalization journey.
Indeed, the market is still characterized by customized industrial Ethernet solutions, based on vendor-specific proprietary standards and with limited interoperability. Nevertheless, there are leading players in the industry who are bucking this trend, promoting the development and adoption of technologies that can overcome current limitations to achieve seamless connectivity.
Define interoperability and interconnectivity
The first aspect companies should look for when looking at their communications is openness. A solution that enables open network architectures ultimately supports data exchange between hardware devices from a multitude of manufacturers. This is because automation vendors are able to decouple hardware and software from the network to develop compatible devices and interfaces.
It is precisely for these reasons that the CC-Link family of network technologies for industrial communications has been developed as an open source solution. Even more, the CLPA is committed to driving its adoption by helping device vendors develop compatible products, certify them, and improve their presence in the market.
In addition to openness, it is recommended that you favor a network or protocol that can provide interoperability or other complementary specifications that support the unification of industrial communications. With this approach, end users can easily access information produced by different machines or divisions within a company.
Regarding this aspect, CLPA has launched key initiatives to provide seamless connectivity, such as incorporating MQTT and establishing valuable collaborations with other leading organizations. These include, for example, the development of a common specification with PROFIBUS & PROFINET International (PI) as well as the integration of OPC UA technology into the open industrial Gigabit Ethernet CC-Link IE.
Identify future-facing features
One of the most exciting aspects of interoperability is the ability to reliably leverage solutions that were previously not available to specific domains. An example is the application of the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to the field of operational technology.
This technology has been widely used in information technology (IT) to help engineers gain unique insight into the health and performance of their networks and devices, but the operational technology (OT) side has never been able to. benefit from it. With one of the industry’s most advanced networking technologies, CC-Link IE TSN, that’s no longer the case. As a result, it is now possible to use SNMP to advance industrial automation and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications.
Finally, choosing a solution from a network technology vendor that is committed to performing unified compliance testing is extremely beneficial, especially when it comes to providing pioneering solutions. Specifically, as market demand for time-sensitive networking (TSN) grows, enterprises can benefit from a standardized test plan to confirm product compliance and compatibility with TSN functions. This can ensure that all devices on a network can use the same protocols and standards.
To address this need, CLPA has engaged with the TSN Industrial Automation Conformance Collaboration (TIACC). This aims to develop and promote a single common conformance test plan to certify TSN-enabled products to the IEC/IEEE 60802 TSN Profile for Industrial Automation. Thus, the organization is actively engaged with other leading specialists, such as Avnu Alliance, ODVA, OPC Foundation (OPCF) and PI, in this new industry-wide initiative.
A strong pillar
The network of the future will feature increased interconnectivity and openness to support seamless communications between a wide and ever-expanding range of devices. With a proven track record of improving and expanding these building blocks with every network technology released by the organization, CLPA is well positioned to meet the need for easy-to-implement and seamless data sharing. By choosing the CC-Link family of network technologies, machine builders and end users are one step closer to realizing the unified architectures of the future.
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