Fundamental concepts to maximize data acquisition

Industrial communication protocols are improving, opening up access to new sources of data acquisition for users.

By Thomas Burke March 15, 2023
Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology


Learning Objectives

  • Understand how operational data valuable for asset management and the cycle data is valuable for lifecycle monitoring.
  • Understand the basis of time-sensitive networking (TSN) and TSN-based Ethernet and how it can improve data collection.
  • Understood how data formats are often stored and the different file formats with compression algorithms that provide benefits for specific use cases.

Data acquisition insights

  • Industrial communication protocols are improving and giving users more leverage and access to data.
  • The core benefits offered by time-sensitive networking (TSN) are determinism and convergence, which can help manufacturers gain better control and insight of their data.

Access to devices is one of the last challenges to interrogating them for data. Industrial automation systems often isolate devices to control networks to help maximize performance and reliability. However, these isolated networks limit the ability to access data, requiring that the controller become a proxy for the limited data from a control device. Control devices such as motors and drives are becoming more powerful and are generating more data. Operational data is valuable for asset management; cycle data is valuable for lifecycle monitoring.

While some of this data can be available when programming and commissioning a system, industrial communication protocols are improving, opening up access to new sources of data, available while systems are operating and not just through configuration software.

TSN benefits data acquisition for controls

In 2018, Ethernet was enhanced with a time-sensitive networking (TSN) specification. TSN delivers functionality for device clock synchronization, traffic prioritization and traffic shaping. These enable devices to coordinate their communication schedules, preempt traffic and break up large transmissions to intersperse higher-priority messages. This combination of features enables Ethernet to be applied to one of the most demanding areas of communication, that between controllers and components required for motion control, among other devices.

Ethernet’s initial benefits include low-cost cabling, ease of use and flexible architectures. With all devices on one network, the real benefit is direct data access from the elements already under control.

Two TSN core benefits help with data acquisition, controls

The core benefits offered by TSN are determinism and convergence. Determinism is fundamental to supporting time-critical communications on the factory floor and helps ensure data delivery by minimizing latency and jitter. Convergence enables companies to merge different traffic types onto one network without affecting the performance of shop-floor communications. This is fundamental to sharing operational insights and hence increasing process transparency across an enterprise. This data access can be used to derive insights to optimize manufacturing equipment, facilities and entire organizations.

Since TSN is an extension of standard Ethernet, it also is interoperable with existing network technologies and devices. Hence it can be used alongside existing devices, reducing system investments. TSN-capable switches from a number of vendors enable high performance traffic to be segmented to control networks, while continuing to allow background “merged” traffic for data acquisition purposes.

Four TSN benefits to converged networks to help data acquisition

Merged traffic means the combination of protocols that weren’t able to co-exist, for example simple network management protocol (SNMP) and other non-deterministic communications like that needed for data or video traffic. We can see the co-existence of many protocols such as OPC UA, EtherNet/IP, Profinet, SLMP and any form of standard Ethernet traffic.

There are four benefits to a converged network.

  1. Control devices that have previously been isolated to control networks, required to ensure deterministic performance, can now be addressable and accessible to other applications for use in advanced analytics and digital twins.

  2. Devices are becoming smarter and more complex. These require management and can be accomplished over one connection.

  3. Architectures are simplified through the use of a common network, improving deployment.

  4. Troubleshooting and costs are reduced, through the simplification of architectures.

Converged network benefits include getting data analytics from isolated, devices, managed devices, improved deployment and simpler architecture. Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

Converged network benefits include getting data analytics from isolated, devices, managed devices, improved deployment and simpler architecture. Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

Benefits of TSN-based Ethernet

TSN-based Ethernet enables the development and use of smarter machines, delivering far more operational data. Adding new data acquisition capabilities that will deliver a competitive advantage.

Improved data accessibility with TSN

TSN is an enhancement to Ethernet at a fundamental level. As such, Ethernet input/output (I/O) chip sets are required. Leading technology providers have already delivered silicon and firmware to enable the development of new TSN-based devices and infrastructure components. Automation suppliers are already leveraging those components in their offerings including programmable logic controllers (PLCs), I/O and motion controls. Proof of concepts have been on display for several years now, demonstrating new levels of motion control determinism that directly leads to higher quality products. Users can now combine video and deterministic control communications on the same wire.

This technology trend offers many commercial opportunities for machine designers and builders. By selecting products with TSN capabilities, machine designers can increase their market coverage and gain a competitive advantage.

Machine designers also are selecting products from leading suppliers to produce TSN-based solutions. Thanks to software and straightforward hardware modifications, it is often possible to update existing industrial controls to support these next-generation benefits.

Industrial communications can be futureproofed and achieve next-level performance. Machine designers and builders should think outside the box and embrace this new technology, ahead of the competition, to achieve a clear and measurable competitive edge.

They need to act now to deliver TSN-compatible products or upgrade existing machines with TSN capabilities. By doing so, they can help customers to create the factories of the future while enhancing their own competitiveness in a fast-growing market.

Companies do not need to convert the entire enterprise to TSN. It has its place, islands of functionality where performance and data accessibility is a requirement. These islands of TSN can be bridged to enterprise networks through switches, combining the two worlds cleanly and effectively.

Thomas Burke is global strategic advisor at CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA), a CFE Media and Technology content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,


Keywords: time-sensitive networking, Ethernet


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Author Bio: Thomas Burke is global strategic adviser for CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA). He is the founder of the OPC Foundation and spent much of his career developing software, hardware and firmware for industrial automation, including at Rockwell Automation. CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.