Industrial networks open up to the future

Open industrial networks are fundamental components of the Smart Factory and Industrie 4.0 will play a key role in the factory of the future.

By John Wozniak January 25, 2019

The Factory of the Future is loaded with sensors and devices that record real-time processes and statuses across the factory floor. A fast, efficient, and reliable industrial network is key to successfully sharing and utilizing the data being generated. The network architecture should be designed as an interconnected platform, able to link all the nodes together and provide both upstream and localized communication.

The interconnected factory envisioned by Industrie 4.0 has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing with greater interconnectivity and control over different factory processes. In this way, companies in any sector can boost productivity and efficiency while improving product quality and consistency.

The adoption of Industrie 4.0 is much more than a simple plus for general operating efficiency, as it marks the transition to new manufacturing processes that are truly synchronous with customer demand. Now, during this titled ‘fourth industrial revolution’ – i.e. Industrie 4.0; the implementation of automation and network technologies is essential for businesses to remain competitive.

How to implement Industrie 4.0 on the factory floor

While Industrie 4.0 is likely unavoidable, its adoption could be a problem for many companies. In real, practical terms, the development and implementation of a suitable digital strategy is a marathon, rather than a sprint. It is tempting to reengineer the whole enterprise at once, but this would be overwhelming, compromising the entire digitalization process.

After having defined a suitable digital strategy, its implementation should take place in stages. It is good to start with small projects that have a defined end-goal and are relatively easy to complete. Each automation project’s success can be measured. Their implementation helps develop a controllable and scalable system that can be adapted to future needs. Small projects lend themselves to small investments where implementations can be justified. Also, improvement can be measured to help justify the adoption of Industrie 4.0 techniques and processes.

Digital strategies need to consider interconnectivity

A methodical step-by-step approach, where the installation and upgrade of factory equipment is completed at different times and usually involves vendors, technologies and protocols, can vary. Therefore, it is important to make sure that any new component is compatible and can communicate with the existing ones.

This is more difficult than it sounds. Many current products have closed, proprietary standards and protocols that let them only exchange data with solutions from the same vendor. Choosing a single hardware vendor is not always a feasible alternative either. Applications may need to mix different vendors to achieve the intended result. These businesses may also face changes in the market as the Industrie 4.0 journey is a marathon.

This can cause frustration among manufacturers, but not all is lost. Open Ethernet is not locked to a specific vendor system. It can provide a framework that not only allows the connection of current automation products, but also features a built-in flexibility for future factory revamps, installations, and upgrades.

Open Ethernet is based on the complete independence between hardware and software. This ensures a hardware application can run on any Ethernet software platform.

Organizations such as the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) are helping businesses to become highly connected by developing open networks, thus facilitating multi-vendor and multi-platform interoperability.

Action plan for a more open Ethernet

Providing an interoperable environment is a constant work-in-progress activity. The CLPA’s continues to collaborate with other organizations to provide open industrial networks. For example, the organization has produced the specification for a coupler with Profibus & Profinet International (PI). This device allows CC-Link IE and Profinet networks, and their respective machines to be interoperable.

In this way, the CLPA, OPC Foundation, and PI are collaborating on the network of the future, to openness and interoperability from an intuitive platform.

CC-Link Partners Association (CLPA)

– Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

Author Bio: John Wozniak, Manager of CLPA-Americas