Time-aware networking, a way into the future

Technologies enabling Industry 4.0 such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are helping machine designers develop increasingly digitized, connected and data-driven manufacturing through the use of smarter equipment. By adopting technologies that support digital transformation strategies, equipment manufacturers can build smart, interconnected factories.

The vision of the factory of tomorrow is one of machines, production lines, factories and entire supply chains that communicate with each other to improve productivity, efficiency and flexibility. The benefits that can be achieved with these frameworks are significant.

For example, companies can combine floor data with higher-level information and perform advanced big data analytics to gain unique business intelligence. This actionable information can then be leveraged to implement self-regulating automated processes to optimize manufacturing activities and deliver high-quality products while minimizing cycle times.

“Value chains” depend on highly interconnected companies that rely on established strategies such as just-in-time manufacturing to reduce inventory costs while increasing flexibility. Businesses can make smarter decisions about equipment usage to optimize performance, quality, or both. Additionally, companies can streamline maintenance activities by predicting potential equipment failures in advance using condition-based monitoring and repair scheduling to minimize downtime. stop.

To help businesses thrive in a world where competition is fierce and customer demand requires increasingly agile operations, automation vendors must offer advanced solutions to help customers implement smart manufacturing. A key technology to achieve this is Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN), which was specifically developed by the IEEE 802.1 working group to improve standard Ethernet and support future-proofing capabilities by adding the ability to shape and prioritize traffic.

TSN Ethernet functionality

The main advantages offered by TSN are determinism and convergence.

Determinism is fundamental to supporting time-sensitive communications in the plant, as it ensures predictable delivery of data by minimizing latency and jitter. This requires the Ethernet specification to be improved in three areas:

  1. Provide highly accurate time synchronization so that all devices on the network can communicate intelligently and in a coordinated manner
  2. This traffic can be shaped – large transmissions can be split into multiple smaller transmissions to allow preemption by higher priority traffic
  3. The ability to set the priority of communications between devices. This, in turn, supports real-time applications and forms the basis for convergence.

Convergence, TSN’s second key benefit, allows businesses to merge different types of traffic onto a single network without impacting the performance of shop floor communications. This is fundamental for sharing operational information and therefore increasing the transparency of processes in a company, which can then be used to gain insights to optimize manufacturing facilities and entire organizations.

Since TSN is an extension of standard Ethernet, it is also interoperable with existing network technologies and devices. As such, it can be used with existing devices, reducing system investment.

A converged network has four advantages:

  1. Control devices that were previously isolated on separate control networks, which are required to ensure deterministic performance, can now be addressable and accessible to other applications for use in advanced analytics and digital twins
  2. Devices are getting smarter and more complex and require management that can now be done over a single connection
  3. Architectures are simplified by using a single network, improving deployment and troubleshooting
  4. Costs are reduced by simplifying architectures.

TSN Market Opportunities

TSN is recognized in various sectors as the future of industrial Ethernet and industrial communications. Therefore, the interest and adoption of this technology is growing at a rapid pace.

Leading technology companies have already provided silicon and firmware to enable the development of new TSN-based devices and infrastructure components. Leading automation vendors have already adopted these new components in their automation equipment offerings, including PLCs, I/O, and motion controls.

Proofs of concepts have been shown for several years at trade shows around the world, demonstrating startlingly new levels of motion control determinism that lead directly to higher quality products. We can now combine video and deterministic control communications on the same wire.

This technology trend offers particularly interesting business opportunities for designers and machine builders. By selecting state-of-the-art products with TSN capabilities, machine designers can increase their market coverage and gain a competitive advantage.

To gain rapid access to this market, machine designers can select products from leading vendors to produce TSN-based equipment. With simple software and hardware modifications, it is often possible to upgrade existing industrial controls to support higher level capabilities.

TSN is a key enabling technology for the digital transformation of manufacturing and will deliver four key benefits to machine builders and their end users:

  1. Simpler network architectures/machine designs
  2. Greater process transparency and better management
  3. More productivity
  4. Better integration of OT and IT systems

To enable future-proof industrial communications and next-level performance, machine designers and builders must think outside the box and adopt this new technology, before their competitors, to gain a clear and measurable competitive advantage. They must act now to provide TSN compatible products or upgrade existing machines with TSN capabilities. In doing so, they can help their customers create the factories of the future while strengthening their own competitiveness in a rapidly growing market.

Thomas Burke is global strategic advisor for CC Link Partner Association. On May 16, he will discuss the value of time-sensitive networking and its value for networking and data management as part of the Machine Design Insights series.