TechnologyNovember 1, 2022

Creating competitive machines with Time-Sensitive Networking

CC-Link IE TSN can handle multiple types of traffic while addressing the need for deterministic data transfer, such as control communications on the shop floor.

CC-Link IE TSN is designed to address a number of engineering challenges as well as prepare companies for the new digital era of Connected Industries. Leveraging Time-Sensitive Networking and gigabit Industrial Ethernet, it enables factories to quickly adapt and evolve to incorporate new promising technologies.

Automation device vendors need to keep pace with the latest technologies more than anyone else in order to deliver competitive products that address market requirements. As an enabler for Industry 4.0 applications, Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) is quickly becoming a must-have to deliver state-of-the-art connectivity.

TSN is a major development in industrial Ethernet communications with tremendous potential for end users and device vendors interested in futureproofing their facilities and solutions, respectively. In effect, this technology is key to creating automation networks that can handle multiple types of traffic while addressing the need for deterministic data transfer, i.e., for control communications on the shop floor. The level of reliable convergence created offers several benefits.

Firstly, the possibility to convey different traffic types onto a single pair of wires reduces network costs and complexity, as it is possible to rely on a simplified architecture. This, in turn, can streamline the addition or modification of nodes as well as maintenance and troubleshooting activities.
Secondly, these capabilities support data transparency and availability across the enterprise to assist decision-making and management. In particular, it is possible to merge information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) in order to create responsive Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) frameworks that are at the core of Industry 4.0 applications.

When looking at automation devices compatible with TSN, these can effectively transfer to and receive key information from any other element within the network, delivering next-level flexibility and responsiveness to maintain peak productivity. Therefore, they will be able to outperform existing solutions.

Recognizing the commercial value of TSN

These considerable advantages have not gone unnoticed by businesses and machine builders in a variety of sectors, which are beginning to implement key systems that feature TSN functions to succeed in their digital transformation. In particular, a considerable number of projects are being carried out in fast-paced sectors, such as the semiconductor and automotive industries. Similarly, lithium battery manufacturers and leading players in packaging, food, and beverage as well as consumer packaged goods are driving the wave of TSN adoption.

By embedding TSN in their automation devices, vendors can therefore meet the market requests for highly connected, data-driven solutions. This means that companies can provide end users with precisely the tools they are looking for, as there is a clear shift in the industry towards this technology.

CC-Link IE TSN can handle multiple types of traffic while addressing the need for deterministic data transfer, such as control communications on the shop floor.

CC-Link IE TSN can handle multiple types of traffic while addressing the need for deterministic data transfer, such as control communications on the shop floor.

To successfully tap into this market, it is important for product vendors to act quickly in order to serve this growing and partially unaddressed segment. By doing so, companies can establish their role in the industry as well as face less competition, benefitting from better profit margins.

So, what does a company convinced of the benefits of TSN and wanting to adopt it do now? The answer is to look for a technology that supports TSN currently while providing the necessary application functionality, such as safety and motion control. It’s been almost four years since CLPA introduced CC-Link IE TSN, which involved using the established open industrial Ethernet solution of CC-Link IE and adding TSN compatibility to it. What resulted? The world’s first open industrial Ethernet technology to combine gigabit bandwidth with TSN.

This technology provides the gateway to the future of open industrial Ethernet. End users, machine builders, and vendors can now adopt a proven technology in their respective products and projects. The ecosystem of development options that are available to vendors who want to offer TSN-certified products is broad and flexible.

Compatible solutions from leading vendors are already available. For device vendors, developing TSN-compatible products now will shape the future of automation. TSN helps to deliver the promise of Industry 4.0 in three key ways:

Performance: CC-Link IE TSN is the only open industrial Ethernet currently available to combine gigabit bandwidth with TSN to provide the highest productivity via maximum bandwidth availability.

Connectivity: Being an open technology maximizes the freedom of choice for end users and machine builders, while also providing implementation flexibility for vendors. TSN takes openness one step further by offering the ability to combine TSN traffic with that of other protocols.

Intelligence: Reduce engineering time and maximize uptime with a range of features intended to simplify system design and maintenance.

The tools at hand

To add TSN functions to their solutions, device vendors can rely on TSN technology to offer combined deterministic and convergent performance. In the case of CC-Link IE TSN, it also features a broad development ecosystem to help automation specialists create advanced TSN-compatible solutions in line with their goals.

With a cascade of industry players in the automation sectors, leveraging TSN to deliver innovative products, the technology is gaining momentum. As more and more ground-breaking devices are available to test and utilize, end users are showing ever-increasing interest. Therefore, device vendors offering their solutions can now rapidly grow their business and competitiveness with a reliable, future-oriented industrial Ethernet that is accepted globally.

The strategy with respect to technologies like Ethernet TSN is to create a set of services, to be used by all the other industrial Ethernet protocol organizations. Collaboration is required, specifically making their protocols leverage the new services in a way to deliver co-existence. An Ethernet standard alone — delivering services for traffic shaping, prioritization, and scheduling — cannot, on its own, enforce compliance. In addition to developing the standards, owning organizations have a process in place to facilitate companies developing and releasing products that properly leverage their new services. Certification and validation are necessary to ensure that users of standards are releasing products that are compatible in a multi-vendor community.

TIACC (TSN Industrial Automation Conformance Collaboration) is a unique and important initiative that clearly demonstrates the value proposition of Ethernet TSN technology through the participation of competing organizations. The leading industrial Ethernet organizations – CC-Link Partner Association, ODVA, OPC Foundation, PROFINET International and AVNU, are working together to make sure that the solutions from their respective organizations are validated and tested together so that end customers may make use of a blended TSN architecture. The organization is focused on developing the necessary test specifications to ensure the co-existence of industry protocols.

Overall, the industrial automation and electronic design market is trending towards interoperability. The TIACC collaboration will accelerate that trend. Digital manufacturing and Industry 4.0 need data to be able to move freely in a real-time and predictable manner. End users want the ability to have plug-and-play interoperability and to have all these different networks and devices coexisting and working together. The greatest ROI value comes from transforming data into useful information. The more data – the better the information, and this is the key strategy of digital transformation.

Multi-dimensional protocols are needed to successfully implement innovative industrial Ethernet systems that leverage TSN, particularly to support demanding automation applications on the factory floor. These protocols need to support deterministic performance, ad-hoc data transfers as well as support device management and troubleshooting. CC-Link IE TSN is characterized by a strong backbone for safety communications as well as I/O and motion control. In effect, it relies on a proven industrial Ethernet protocol that was specifically developed to run these applications. This has been widely used in industrial settings around the world, particularly in Asia where the CC-Link IE and its fieldbus counterpart, CC-Link, are the de facto standards.

There are over 100 industrial automation products today that have TSN capabilities, including those from Mitsubishi Electric, Moxa, Belden, Phoenix Contact, Weidmueller — and this will certainly grow due to the enhanced performance that TSN provides. TSN allows a broad spectrum of device integration operations from both a hardware and software perspective.

Thomas Burke, global strategic advisor, CC Link Partner Association (CLPA)