Time Sensitive Networking: 5 Ways the IEEE Standards will Advance Industry 4.0

Jan. 31, 2020
Thanks to TSN, all data across the factory can coexist and communicate.

Across the world, I meet with customers investing hundreds of thousands, even millions, into making the promise of Industry 4.0 a reality. This new paradigm of ubiquitous connectivity is inspiring manufacturers ranging from the largest automation OEMs to emerging businesses. They see the potential to make their businesses more productive, efficient, adaptable and profitable for the bottom line, and ultimately for their employees, stakeholders and customers.

Industry 4.0 promises unprecedented levels of flexibility that translate into agile production, allowing manufacturers to adapt to seasonal or changing customer needs. We will be able to improve uptime, which controls overhead and maintenance costs and resources, as well as to improve business and customer confidence. These are just a few examples of the potentially industry-changing outcomes we can anticipate as a result of the fourth Industrial Revolution.

Underscoring these massive opportunities is the need to acquire, communicate and analyze data. Data, and most importantly the insights extracted from that data, is the currency by which all of these improvements can be obtained. However, in most factories today, data lives in siloes where it sits isolated and inaccessible, therefore rendering it unactionable.

Enter Time Sensitive Networking (TSN), a set of IEEE Ethernet standards foundational for meeting the many demands of Industry 4.0. With TSN, all data across the factory—from the floor to servers, front office and everywhere in between—can coexist and communicate. Because TSN is the first step to breaking down existing data siloes that hinder industrial communications, it can enable ubiquitous access to precious, decision-making data.

TSN is a jumping-off point for helping industrial organizations achieve the promise of Industry 4.0 in five key ways, all of which are rooted in making data more accessible.

1. Creating a common language. By creating a uniform understanding of time synchronization—and uniform treatment of all data packets and information—TSN allows data to speak a common layer 2 language. While equipment interoperability challenges will still exist, manufacturers will be able to derive more value from their data that can now coexist in the same Ethernet network.

2. Enabling scalability and agility. TSN scales across line rates, allowing equipment manufacturers to scale bandwidth (and therefore complexity and power) to the application. This scalability allows the solution to be tailored to the problem thus ensuring cost-effective communications in the factory.

3. Enabling determinism and reliability on standard Ethernet. TSN supports the real-time, deterministic data crucial for accuracy and precision. If the timing of a control data point is delayed or off in any way, a machine may not respond properly and cause downstream impacts that decrease productivity and result in lost revenue.

Consider, for example, the precision required for a robot to work alongside a human; if the robot’s movements are off by even a fraction of an inch, worker safety can be jeopardized. In the past, these problems have been solved by proprietary techniques that negatively impacted interoperability. TSN facilitates these deterministic communication applications with the interoperability, scalability and economies of scale enjoyed by standard Ethernet.

4. Helping to close the divide between Information Technology (IT) and Operating Technology (OT) specialists. By providing a common set of tools, TSN supports the often distinct and competing goals of IT and OT teams. It presents a common framework, a shared language, that supports collaboration. Additionally, we’re seeing many OT specialists near retirement age, meaning they’ll take their historical expertise of today’s fieldbuses to retirement with them. TSN has the potential to mitigate these future skills gaps by providing a common framework that enables IT specialists to support industrial Ethernet. After all, resources competent in standard Ethernet and IP networking technologies are more readily available.

5. Maximizing the efficiency of factory assets. Standard Ethernet and IP technology improves visibility for business decisions. This ubiquitous access to data allows industrial automation control suppliers to:

  • Ensure consistent quality and performance across global operations
  • Balance manufacturing with demand to optimize material usage and asset utilization
  •  Improve and meet regulatory compliance
  • Implement more flexible and agile manufacturing operations to respond to rapidly changing market conditions
  • Meet demanding requirements and metrics for on-time delivery through reduced mean-time-to-repair (MTTR) and increased overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)
  • Reduce the cost of design, deployment and support of manufacturing and IT systems at global manufacturing plants
  • Improve response to events that occur on the plant floor, regardless of location

There is no doubt that TSN standards are a crucial, foundational building block for the promise of Industry 4.0 and the many applications it will transform­—ushering in the next generation of technology to revolutionize how manufacturers work and operate. Yet, it’s just one piece of a broader ecosystem we’re building to bring the fourth Industrial Revolution to life. That requires software, middleware, advanced silicon components, brilliant inventors and engineers, dedicated technicians and operators, education and time. The incredible potential of these emerging technologies cannot be understated.

Jordon Woods is the director of Analog Devices’ Deterministic Ethernet Technology Group and is a member of the IEEE 802.1 TSN Task Group.

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