Ethernet cables

Time-Sensitive Networking a Pathway to the Future

April 22, 2022
An Ethernet extension helps increase operational transparency.

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

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

For instance, companies can combine shop floor data with higher enterprise-level information and perform advanced Big Data analytics to gain unique business intelligence. This actionable insight can then be leveraged to set up self-regulating automated processes to optimize manufacturing activities and deliver high-quality products while minimizing cycle times.

So-called “value chains” are dependent on highly interconnected enterprises building on established strategies such as just-in-time manufacturing to reduce inventory costs while increasing flexibility. Businesses can make smarter decisions about equipment utilization for optimized performance, quality or both. Moreover, businesses can streamline maintenance activities by predicting potential equipment failure ahead of time using condition-based monitoring and scheduling repairs to minimize downtime.

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

Ethernet TSN functionality

The core benefits offered by TSN are determinism and convergence.

Determinism is fundamental to supporting time-critical communications on the factory floor, as it ensures the predictable delivery of data by minimizing latency and jitter. This requires that the Ethernet specification is enhanced in three areas:

  1. Delivering a highly accurate time synchronization to that all devices on the network can communicate intelligently and in a coordinated fashion
  2. That traffic can be shaped–large transmissions can be broken into many smaller transmissions to enable preemption by higher priority traffic
  3. The ability to define prioritization to communications between devices. This, in turn, supports real-time applications and provides the foundation for convergence.

Convergence, the second key benefit of TSN, enables companies to merge different traffic types onto a single network without affecting the performance of shop floor communications. This is fundamental to sharing operational insights and hence increasing process transparency across an enterprise, which can then be used to derive 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 investments.

There are four benefits to a converged network:

  1. Control devices that have previously been isolated to separated 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 becoming smarter and more complex, and require management that can now be accomplished over one connection
  3. Architectures are simplified through the use of one network, improving deployment and troubleshooting
  4. Costs are reduced through the simplification of architectures.

TSN Market Opportunities

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

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

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

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

To quickly tap into this market, machine designers can select products from leading suppliers to produce TSN-based equipment. Thanks to software and straightforward hardware modifications, it is often possible to update existing industrial controls to support next-level capabilities.

TSN is a key enabling technology for the digital transformation of manufacturing, and will offer four key benefits for 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 futureproof industrial communications and next-level performance, machine designers and builders should think outside the box and embrace this new technology, ahead of their competition, to achieve a clear and measurable competitive edge. They need to act now to deliver TSN-compatible products or upgrade existing machines with TSN capabilities. By doing so they can help their customers to create the factories of the future while enhancing their own competitiveness in a fast-growing market.

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

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