Time-sensitive networking and Industrial IoT

The future of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is built upon the foundation of time-sensitive networking (TSN). IIoT creates a smart system of systems where smarter, hyper-connected devices and infrastructure of manufacturing machines, transportation systems, and the electrical grid will embed sensing, processing, control, and analysis capabilities. Here’s how TSN will help.


Industrial automation is going through an evolution with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and time-sensitive networking (TSN) will have a major role in improving its efficiency. Courtesy: National InstrumentsAs awareness surrounding Internet of Things (IoT) standardization continues to grow, more eyes are being drawn to interoperability and network infrastructure solutions, including time-sensitive networking (TSN). TSN is a standard from the IEEE 802 committee and is designed to solve the need to process raw data in a time-critical fashion in addition to reducing latency and increasing robustness. [IEEE 802 is the Standard for Local and Metropolitan Area Networks and includes 11 parts, including Ethernet and five wireless standards.] To support new capabilities of IoT-enabled infrastructure, designers, engineers, and end users need to rely on time-synchronized and reliable networking.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) promises a world of smarter, hyper-connected devices and infrastructure where manufacturing machines, transportation systems, and the electrical grid will be outfitted with embedded sensing, processing, control, and analysis capabilities. Once networked together, they'll create a smart system of systems that shares data between devices across the enterprise and in the cloud.

Much of today's network infrastructure is not equipped to handle such time-sensitive data. Many industrial systems and networks were designed according to the Purdue model for control hierarchy in which multiple, rigid bus layers are created and optimized to meet the requirements for specific tasks. Each layer has varying levels of latency, bandwidth, and quality of service, making interoperability challenging and flexibly changing data connections virtually impossible. If you look at why industry adopted the Ethernet in the first place, at that time there were a plethora of proprietary networks. Industrial Ethernet emerged even though the technology solution was not very attractive with co-axial cable and vampire taps, but industry adopted it anyway. That was all because it was a commercial standard, and the economies of scale brought the price down below proprietary solutions.

Today on Ethernet networks, there is a need for functions such as quality of service, which we can think about as paying to get onto a toll road. On the toll road, you expect to get higher performance and a higher likelihood of getting to your destination without getting snarled in traffic jams. But it doesn't guarantee the time from door to door because there may be a number of other devices that are also on the tollway.

TSN provides not only access to a tollway, or an express lane, but along with providing access, the signals along the way are all very tightly coordinated with time. Not only is there the benefit of a priority through the network, but it can actually guarantee end-to-end scheduling, and every light turns green at the right time.

Certification helps interoperability

The AVnu Alliance, an industry consortium driving open, standards-based deterministic networking, in addition to advancements made to TSN, is working with member companies to drive this next-generation standard and create an interoperable ecosystem through certification. Members are working within the Alliance to develop the foundational elements needed for industrial applications based on the common elements of AVB/TSN.

In thinking about TSN, there are some very interesting and compelling use cases for industry in many applications. But there is also the possibility of getting onto a new track and using standardized technology that is the target for most of the innovation in the networking space and leveraging these faster speeds.

These nonconnected or proprietary networks control their own IoT device. The real potential for IoT is when you put another layer of communication on top of this. The overarching network will still let each individual network control its proprietary things, but this larger network wants to communicate with these protocols for big data, optimization, and system control opportunities.

Today, engineers are faced with an array of constantly evolving, proprietary technologies to implement deterministic Ethernet communications that are only applicable in niche markets and applications. 

Future-proof layer

The requirements across these seemingly different applications represent a convergence and a focal point on what the network needs to actually deliver at the foundational layer. The challenge is how to deliver that data in a consistent way so companies and other standards groups can build on the foundation that has been created. AVnu has worked on creating a scalable foundational layer with core synchronization, common scheduling, and multiple transport options, and makes it open and future-proof for any technology or application to build onto for deterministic networking in any industry.

TSN promises through standard silicon to converge the previously disparate technologies needed for standard Ethernet communication, for deterministic high-speed data transfer, and for high accuracy time synchronization. These developments will create a common foundation that will impact numerous applications and markets ranging from machine control and asset monitoring to test cells and vehicle control.

AVnu Alliance recently joined engineers, integrators, product managers and executives from around the world at the second annual Conference on Time-Sensitive Networking and Applications (TSNA) in San Jose, Calif., for a series of technical tracks aimed at educating and generating awareness for emerging TSN standards and for engineers to get together to talk about these topics.

Jim Grubb, vice president of marketing and chief demonstration officer at Cisco, delivered a keynote on "Thriving in the digital vortex using standardization to transition from disruption to growth." Grubb emphasized how disruptive technology can challenge assumptions about common problems and unlock new capabilities, but that it is normally accompanied by a period of great turmoil and business risk. He added that the solution is through standardization.

The keynote speech by Marek Neumann, "The future of self-driving vehicles and how time-coordinated, networked intelligence will make that future a reality," offered a compelling view of potential developments involving TSN. There were 27 speakers over the two-day conference across markets and industries.

Todd Walter is chief marketing manager at National Instruments. Walter is also AVnu Alliance industrial segment chair/chief marketing manager, embedded systems. Courtesy: National Instruments"This year's TSNA Conference was proof that support for TSN is growing at a rapid rate," said Kevin Stanton, TSNA conference chair and AVnu Alliance board of directors chairman. "TSNA 2016 provided a deeper and more technical look at AVB/TSN with sessions focused on the application and business impact across industries as well as updates on collaboration efforts with other alliances and standards organizations. The maturity of the presentations and the quality of attendees is evidence of the readiness for an interoperable foundation for TSN across markets."

As IIoT adoption continues, increased amounts of data and widely distributed networks will require new standards for sharing and transferring critical information. Just as an ambulance or fire engine receives priority among other traffic during an emergency, the TSN standard ensures that critical, time-sensitive data is delivered on time over standard network infrastructure. Welcome to life in the IIoT fast lane.

Todd Walter is chief marketing manager at National Instruments. Walter is also AVnu Alliance industrial segment chair/chief marketing manager, embedded systems. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Key Concepts

  • The Industrial Internet of Things' (IIoT) future will depend on the development and evolution of time-sensitive networking.
  • Many network infrastructures today are not equipped to handle time-sensitive data.
  • Increased amounts of data and widely distributed networks will require new standards for sharing information.

Consider this

What else could have a major impact on IIoT's future for your projects?

ONLINE extra

Click here for IEEE 802.1 Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) Task Group information.

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