Improving sustainability with your communications network

Selecting the right network technology is a key step in enhancing sustainability in manufacturing.

By Thomas Burke April 20, 2022
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles

Sustainability is a key aspect to consider during the development and upgrade of manufacturing facilities. It is important machine builders pay close attention to the network technology used when providing automation systems to enhance energy and resource efficiency as it will determine the advantages that can be unlocked.

By employing a solution that supports transparent, convergent communications, ambitious green targets can be met.

Future-looking industrial communication networks incorporate enabling technologies designed to support digital manufacturing strategies, helping companies optimize and intensify their processes. In addition to driving up profitability, they can also greatly contribute to reducing the environmental impact of shop floor operations.

A key example of such a technology is CC-Link IE TSN, which uses time-sensitive networking (TSN) to transition towards convergent architectures for data sharing.

Reducing bill of materials

Perhaps the most obvious result of employing a convergent architecture for industrial communications is simplification, as all nodes are part of a single network, rather than multiple dedicated systems. In effect, CC-Link IE TSN merges data sharing for operational technology (OT), such as control and safety communications, with higher enterprise-level information technology (IT) structures.

By creating automation solutions that utilize this simplified setup, machine builders can decrease the number of components required to create a factory where all application levels are interconnected. A facility’s bill of materials (BoM) is reduced, which leads to decreased material usage. Fewer parts and less materials, in turn, lower the infrastructure-related environmental impact of the factory and its products.

Convergence enabling network technologies also have a role to play. CC-Link IE TSN, for example, can help manufacturers gain a unique understanding of their shop floor operations. Automation specialists should therefore create setups that can generate large volumes of visible and accessible data while also making it available for processing by information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) based systems. By doing this, they can deliver solutions that help end users obtain holistic overviews and accurate predictions – for example, end product quality forecasts.

By shedding light on the running processes, it is possible for customers to gain actionable insights on how to eliminate inefficiencies and increase productivity. Thanks to automated feedback and feedforward mechanisms, the operating conditions can be adjusted on-the-fly in line with the results obtained. This makes it possible to reduce cycle times, energy and resource utilization, all aspects which are crucial to minimizing the environmental impact of manufacturing activities.

CC-Link IE TSN can help machine builders incorporate technologies into their projects and enhancing their competitiveness in the marketplace. This network technology can, for example, support the creation of accurate digital twins and cyber-physical systems (CPSs) to optimize process efficiency as well as productivity. Businesses canincrease the sustainability of their operations in a profitable, future-proof manner.

– This originally appeared on Control Engineering Europe. Edited by CFE Media and Technology.

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.