Big Data analytics moves right to the edge

The implications of the introduction of the IEEE 802.3cg standard for industrial automation and what it might mean for 4-20mA or HART systems.

By Brendan O’Dowd April 18, 2020

The ratification in November 2019 of the IEEE 802.3cg standard marked the introduction of a new and dramatically different way for factory operators to connect devices at the edge of the network, freeing them from the restrictions of infrastructure based on the legacy 4-20mA and HART communications interfaces.

The 802.3cg standard, also known as 10BASE-T1L, is a type of industrial Ethernet networking protocol. It provides a way to break down the barriers between the basic operational devices which perform frontline service in the factory or process plant – the sensors and valves, actuators and control switches – and enterprise data, where the intelligence of the new ‘smart factory’ comes to life.

10BASE-T1L networking looks set to become an important enabler of the general transformation towards a data- and analytics-driven approach to factory operation.

As Industry 4.0 implementations become established in every modern factory operation. At its heart is the desire to profit from the exploitation of “Big Data.” New analytics software has begun to transform the way that industry operates and maintains factory equipment and premises. The insights from analytics are often most profound when they uncover patterns in apparently disparate sets of data.

The more data, and the more types of data, that can be reliably captured from devices in the factory, the more opportunities there will be for software to support advanced functions such as condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. The low data bandwidth of the 4-20mA and HART interfaces and the limited scope for integrating them into enterprise computing infrastructures has traditionally hampered efforts to apply analytics to these legacy end-points. It has also restricted the amount of power that can be supplied to an end-point, and the scope to manage the device’s operation remotely.

10BASE-T1L connectivity promises to extend the productivity and efficiency benefits that can be derived from that data to the remotest corners of factories and process plants where sensors and other end-points operate today out of reach of the enterprise network.

The case for installing 10BASE-T1L equipment today rests on the set of capabilities provided for in the 802.3cg standard. A 10BASE-T1L connection offers:

  • A maximum data rate of 10Mbits/sec over a cable length of up to 1km.
  • Up to 500 mW of power to end-points in Zone 0 intrinsically safe applications, enabling the operation of a much wider range of more sophisticated end-points than a 4-20 mA or HART system can support. It can also supply up to 60 W of power to non-intrinsically safe applications, depending on the cabling.
  • Potential to reuse existing, installed single twisted-pair cabling.
  • Rich device management options, including the supply of diagnostic data from the connected device, and the provision of software updates to it.
  • An internet protocol (IP) address for every node, extending Internet of Things (IoT) capability to the edge of the factory network. An IP address enables a node to be not only monitored but also managed remotely.
  • Integration with enterprise network infrastructure.

From a hardware standpoint, implementation of 10BASE-T1L equipment is normally straightforward because the physical medium for its communications is single twisted-pair cable. This might even be the same wiring which already carries 4 to 20mA or HART communications. The 802.3cg standard also supports installation in hazardous (explosion-proof) environments.

It is likely that early implementations of 10BASE-T1L will be of hybrid equipment which supports both the legacy interface, such as 4-20mA, and the new industrial Ethernet protocol.

Making it a success

Two critical factors will determine whether a 10BASE-T1L project is successful – A focus on data and network security.
Once engaged in the operational details of a 10BASE-T1L roll-out, engineers can easily lose sight of the reason for it: to lift the veil on the operation of end-points such as sensors, and feed rich streams of data from them to enterprise-level data analytics engines.
It follows that the biggest risk to the success of a 10BASE-T1L project is not at the end-points themselves, or at the physical infrastructure: the problem is most often at the back end, when inadequate provision is made for handling and using the data sets coming from the newly connected end-points.
So, industrial engineers embarking on a 10BASE-T1L installation should keep these questions in mind:
  • What types of insights do I plan to derive from the data that will be acquired from sensors and other end-points?
  • How will the data be integrated into enterprise-level control systems?
  • Is the format of the data from end-points compatible, or does it need translation?
  • How will insights from data analytics lead to process or system improvements?

The second crucial issue relates to security. The nature of the threat to end-points changes dramatically as soon as they are connected via a 10BASE-T1L network. Before, when connected via 4-20mA, the only way that an end-point could be ‘hacked’ was through physical interference with the device itself or the wires connected to it. A 4-20mA connection is immune to network-borne threats.

The connectivity provided by the 802.3cg standard – including an IP address for every node – makes every end-point vulnerable to remote attack via the enterprise network. The inherent, physical firewall which isolates 4-20mA or HART end-points from the network disappears as soon as the factory installs 10BASE-T1L.

This means that individual nodes and the network infrastructure itself have to be secured through the implementation of software technologies such as:

  • Secure authentication of devices via encrypted device IDs.
  • Encryption of data transmissions.
  • Firewalls to bar outside entities from gaining access to secure devices.

Learning lessons

Following the ratification of the 802.3cg standard, the development of 10BASE-T1L-compatible components and equipment has been accelerating. For its part, Analog Devices (ADI) has been working with industrial equipment manufacturers to ensure that they are able to follow their roadmaps for the introduction of systems that support 10BASE-T1L networking. The expectation in the industry is products offering 10BASE-T1L capability will be released to the market by mid-2021.

The rapid development of 10BASE-T1L components is enabling industrial equipment manufacturers to start to develop new industrial Ethernet-enabled products. Backed by a consortium of industrial companies which has supported the standard development process, 10BASE-T1L technology looks set to supplant the 4-20mA and HART interfaces and accelerate the adoption of Industry 4.0.

Brendan O’Dowd is general manager, industrial automation at Analog Devices. This article originally appeared on Control Engineering Europe’s website. Edited by Keagan Gay, digital media & production coordinator, CFE Media,

Author Bio: Brendan O’Dowd is general manager, Industrial Automation at Analog Devices.