Industry NewsMarch 19, 2024

Seamless Sensor-to-Cloud Solutions: Transforming Industrial Operations

OPA UA FX & Single Pair Ethernet title slide

The synergy of Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) and OPC UA FX technology are enabling and driving the cloud connectivity of Ethernet-based end devices, and are paving the way for a new era of industrial operation.

Lukas Bechtel

Lukas Bechtel, Technology Architect, Technology and Strategy | CTO Office Industrial Automation Solutions | Belden, Inc. Hirschmann Automation and Control GmbH

In today’s fast-paced industrial environment, the challenging integration of sensor-to-cloud communication hinders innovation, efficiency, and excellence in engineering and operations. The challenges are dominated by efforts in configuration and maintenance, as well as the limitation in connection between different ecosystems. By enabling seamless sensor-to-cloud integration, businesses can unlock benefits across various and novel roles within the plant operation:

  • Application Engineer: Streamlining design and development processes, enabling faster time-to-market and reduced costs.
  • Controls Engineer: Enhancing surveillance beyond traditional SCADA systems for real-time monitoring and control.
  • Data Scientist: Utilizing analytics for quality control, efficiency improvement, and equipment health monitoring, leading to significant operational advancements.
  • Network Management: Ethernet connectivity of sensors enables direct access to all network segments for management and monitoring of networks, without the use of different technologies and gateways.

Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) as the Catalyst for Change

Dr. Michael Hilgner, Senior Technology Architect, CTO Office, Industrial Automation Solutions, Belden | Electrical Engineer (PhD)

Dr. Michael Hilgner, Senior Technology Architect, CTO Office, Industrial Automation Solutions, Belden | Electrical Engineer (PhD)

SPE emerges as a disruptive enabler, poised to replace traditional fieldbus systems and sensor/actuator connectivity. Its advantages are clear:

  • Enhanced Bandwidth and Reach: SPE supports distances up to 1km with 10BASE-T1L and offers bandwidths up to 1Gbps with 1000BASE-T1, matching industrial needs.
  • Remote Powering and Hybrid Cabling: SPoE technology and cabling solutions, combining power and data transmission reduce the infrastructure’s complexity and total cost of ownership.
  • Transparency and Efficiency: With Ethernet’s transparency, SPE facilitates improved data visibility and management of all components in the network.
  • Physical Advantages: The miniaturized SPE connectors enable smaller devices. The lighter and more flexible cables are especially suitable for the connection with moving components.

OPC UA FX (UAFX): Standardizing Integration

UAFX stands as a second pivotal enabler, facilitating seamless integration through standardized information models and structured datatypes. This ensures interoperability and simplifies communication across diverse systems and devices, fostering an ecosystem of connected intelligence.

  • Application Engineering: Through standardized device descriptors and connection establishment methods, the engineering workflow across multiple vendors is possible and ecosystem lock in is reduced.
  • Data Engineering: Standardized and structured datatypes enable seamless understanding of data and therefore enhanced analytics of complex processes.
  • Cloud Connectivity: UAFX offers seamless combination of Ethernet traffic for control data and IP communication for monitoring and cloud connectivity, all in one protocol.
  • Network Management: Unification enables simplified and centralized network management and operations.
  • Constraint Footprint: The controller to device UAFX specification will target the constrained device group in a future release by reducing mandatory features to have minimal footprints.

Embracing Brownfield Innovation

The transition to novel technologies requires brownfield strategies to migrate existing networks. For brownfield sensor integration with SPE and UAFX, the following activities enable this transition:

  • Adaptation Devices: Media converters and SPE adapters like Pernet’s periNODE and Belden’s concept study LioN-H facilitate the integration of non-Ethernet sub-systems, including individual sensors and actors with conventional interfaces, with the higher-level IP-based network by providing a local gateway with conversion to SPE functionality.
  • Hybrid Solutions: Devices that combine switch and I/O module functionalities by implementing SPE, sensor/actuator I/O, and fieldbus interfaces offer a versatile solution for aggregating data and control functions.
  • Standardization Efforts: The UAFX profile defines an information model for device categories like IO, Instrumentation, or Motion. Combined with existing OPC UA Companion Specifications, we can model the brownfield integrations seamlessly.

In conclusion, the synergy of SPE and OPC UA FX technology, enabling and driving the cloud connectivity of Ethernet-based end devices, paves the way for a new era of industrial operation, where efficiency, reliability, and innovation are not just goals but realities. Embrace these solutions to future-proof your operations, ensuring your business remains at the forefront of technological advancement.

Lukas Bechtel and Michael Hilgner are both from BELDEN Inc., Member of the SPE Industrial Partner Network, the biggest international network for Single Pair Ethernet technology.

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