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TSN-Fueled Automation Amps up the EV Value Chain

Dec. 8, 2023
A look at how future-oriented industrial automation and time-sensitive network technologies can help drive the successful electrification of the automotive industry.

At a Glance:

  • An unprecedented surge in electric vehicles (EVs) is reshaping the automotive landscape, with industry players in the U.S. aiming to charge ahead in the race to offer competitive, cleaner and greener transportation options.
  • The authors argue that, if manufacturers are to succeed, they should invest in cutting-edge factory automation equipment and open network technologies that can support the needs of this changing market and new production requirements.

Recently, OEMs worldwide have been intensifying efforts to implement major EV developments and support global decarbonization efforts. Global electric car production nearly doubled between 2021 and 2022, reaching a record-breaking output of 10.3 million units for 2022. Data for 2023 show potential for further growth, with a total of 6 million new battery and plug-in hybrid EVs delivered during the first half of 2023.

With more than 660,000 new EVs produced in 2022 and an estimate of more than a million new units in 2023, the U.S. represents a region where momentum is unmistakably gathering. Electric car sales in the country, which is the third largest market on a global scale, increased by 55% in 2022. When looking at battery manufacturing capacity, calculations indicate that local plants have been able to produce sufficient batteries to supply more than 1 million passenger vehicles between 2022 and 2023.

As the amount of investment and scale of production capacity in the U.S. are likely to continue growing, there is great potential for companies in the EV value chain to enhance their market share and establish their products as industry standards. These opportunities are supported by the sector’s well-established propensity for innovation, with highly automated shop floors attesting to it. With production facilities shifting from traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) to lithium-ion battery (LiB) manufacturing processes, industrial automation solutions and their latest advances can help address current and future challenges.

Changing Operational Requirements

Perhaps the greatest difference between ICE and LiB operations is the processing speed, which raises the bar on the requirements for motion control applications. More specifically, machines and their components need to be able to communicate with short cycle times and have high positioning accuracy. Any imprecision can potentially impact the end performance, capacity and safety of LiBs.

The need for fast operations is also amplified by the booming demand for EVs, with battery demand for vehicles in the U.S. growing by around 80% in 2022. To feed this demand, companies need to optimize their manufacturing activities, which includes shortening their lead times and maximizing the throughput of quality products.

READ MORE: Time-Sensitive Networking a Pathway to the Future

In addition to responsive communications, EV and LiB production facilities need to be able to reliably handle extremely high volumes of data. These are also continuing to increase as plants and enterprises become increasingly more digitalized. For example, to support effective, data-driven decision-making, it is important to deliver shop-floor data to higher enterprise-level systems and process them through advanced analytics and mining models to generate actionable insights.

To address all these challenges, companies across the EV value chain need to quickly invest in advanced industrial automation systems that leverage best-in-class devices and high-speed, deterministic network technologies. Favoring solutions equipped with Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) functions is a good starting point to meet these requirements and establish successful operations.

TSN Can Fuel the Creation of Smart EV and LiB Factories

In effect, TSN was developed by the IEEE 802.1 working group to complement standard Ethernet and offer enhanced capabilities, including deterministic performance. One of the key features of TSN is specified by the IEEE 802.1AS standard, which focuses on establishing accurate, distributed time synchronization across numerous axes. When applied to motion control applications, users can benefit from timely and dependable transmission of timestamped data, enabling faster-than-ever cycle times. This means that all TSN-compatible interconnected devices can be coordinated with greater precision than with other solutions, which can deliver higher performance and greater accuracy, as well as enable capabilities previously not possible.

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

Moreover, TSN can prioritize time-sensitive traffic, as defined by the IEEE 802.1Qbv standard. It can also allocate cycle time for the exchange of regular messages, such as control data packets. What’s even more significant is that these functionalities remain intact even when dealing with substantial volumes of less-transient traffic types transmitted over the same network.

This ability to allocate specific timeframes for recurring, time-critical signals goes beyond determinism, as it opens the door to convergence. Hence, the technology is viewed as a gateway to support future-oriented Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and smart manufacturing applications.

Acting Now

U.S. manufacturers looking at future-proofing their production lines with TSN should consider a number of aspects. Firstly, as the region grows its share of the global market, companies need to strengthen their relationships with suppliers worldwide, especially in key areas such as Asia. Also, they should think of their plants not as individual entities, but as nodes of a greater network.

Therefore, selecting open network technologies that are widely supported by industrial automation vendors worldwide is highly beneficial. This holds even truer when the communications solutions are also widely used among key suppliers and the regions where they are based.

CC-Link IE TSN network technology and its range of compatible industrial automation products are ideal to meet these requirements. In effect, CC-Link IE TSN is the first open industrial gigabit Ethernet with TSN functions, and already has a portfolio of hundreds of conforming devices. As the network technology—which is a de facto standard in Asia—is open, the available solutions come from a variety of global vendors, including Mitsubishi Electric.  

Key Opportunities for Manufacturers

Well over 100 industrial automation components such as state-of-the-art controllers, drives and accessory devices are compatible with CC-Link IE TSN. Especially appealing to EV and LiB producers are servo motors equipped with cutting-edge servo amplifiers and encoders that can deliver enhanced performance across multi-axis servo systems. Through CC-Link IE TSN compatibility, these drives can be connected with a multitude of devices from multiple vendors.

Even more, within the range of CC- Link IE TSN certified servos, key solutions make it possible to synchronize up to 256 axes and users can benefit from communication cycle times of 31.25µs, enabling applications to reach a maximum motor speed of 6,700 r/min and even up to 10,000 r/min.

READ MORE: Making the Move to Industry 4.0

When it comes to additional analytics for business intelligence, a variety of CC-Link IE TSN compatible servos support predictive maintenance functions through artificial intelligence (AI). Therefore, users can detect mechanical component deterioration on the machine long before any maintenance requirements arise, optimizing scheduling and maximizing uptime.

As U.S. companies across the EV value chain ramp up their productivity and capabilities, the role of automated machines becomes increasingly pivotal. In this transformative journey, those who embrace the latest technologies can enhance their competitiveness, delivering valuable products and propelling the entire sector though its era of electrification.

Tom Burke is global strategic advisor at the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) Americas. Anthony Pawlak is director, Global Key Accounts (Automotive) at Mitsubishi Electric.

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