Time-sensitive networking’s benefits for the IIoT and manufacturing

Technology Update: Time-sensitive networking (TSN) is moving from the idea stage to deterministic networking and the result of widespread adoption will lead to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

By Albert Mitchell September 8, 2017

Time-sensitive networking (TSN) is finally moving from the idea stage to the main stage of deterministic networking. The IEEE TSN working group has completed the core set of standards required to implement TSN, the industry has developed the first products to support the technology, and simulations and demos are taking place. Widespread adoption of these technologies is the full-blown Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) revolution that has been talked about.

Full TSN implementation will take place over several phases. Because the switch to TSN requires a phased approach, companies won’t be able to just retrofit the technology into legacy systems. While companies won’t be able to immediately replace the existing machines, they must change infrastructures in a way that allows machines to communicate with each other more effectively. Many manufacturers have seen the benefits of standardized Ethernet within operations, and with TSN disparate networks aren’t needed to support time-critical and best-effort Ethernet traffic.

Standard Ethernet

The promise of TSN is twofold. First, it’s based on standard Ethernet. The traffic found on standard Ethernet, such as video and HTML, can share the physical network with high-priority deterministic Ethernet, such as motion control. This is important because those industrial products that need deterministic services are now part of the network, requiring attention to latency and jitter. With TSN, all devices that are connected to the network can be part of a validated architecture, rather than being siloed.

TSN isn’t bogged down by always having to go at the set speeds at all times because it is part of the Ethernet. Instead, precise scheduling is used to speed up or slow down, and prioritize the delivery of whatever packet of information needs to be delivered. It also offers no jitter, even in an atmosphere where it can accommodate more devices. Instead of treating every packet the same, it can receive and interpret all data at once, calculate the maximum amount of time that can be expended before transmission, and disseminate all the information where it needs to go, seamlessly.

This technology is essential because as more devices come onto a network, the need for that central "hub" to direct all the trains—and ensure they come in on time—becomes more important.

From concept to reality

One of the most important concepts of Industrie 4.0 is the need for standard technologies that all vendors can operate. Instead of having more than a dozen fieldbus protocols, which locks companies into doing business with one vendor (or requires translation devices), the principles of Industrie 4.0 stressed uniform standards to allow everyone to enter the digital age. That is what made TSN so valuable as a concept, and that is why it received so much attention as the standard was being developed.

What will make the technology into reality more quickly is strong collaboration. Providers of network infrastructure will have to work closely with customers and automation vendors. If this collaboration takes place the way it should, widespread adoption could occur within two years, and TSN should reach its full potential within five years.

The first step in this line of disruption will be the continued adoption of OPC Unified Architecture (OPC-UA). Once OPC-UA integrates functionality into one framework, it should carry TSN with it.

Why IEEE Standards are important

In many ways, the success of TSN comes down to efficiency. This is what will help guide in the IIoT to its fullest form. Plus, because the technology is based on IEEE standards, all companies can participate. This means a breadth of products will be available to support TSN from vendors. If no such ecosystem existed, there would be no critical mass of companies implementing the technologies. Having interoperability—essentially standards that all vendors must adhere towill drive the industry to develop products that support the TSN standard.

When the IEEE TSN working group completed the core set of standards required to implement TSN, it became clear that the capabilities of the IIoT would soon be available. As vendors and customers begin deploying the first TSN products, we are getting closer to that reality.

Albert Mitchell is senior technical marketing engineer, Cisco. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Key Concepts

  • Time-sensitive networking (TSN) is designed to lead to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) revolution.
  • TSN will become a reality faster with strong collaboration between customers and vendors.
  • The success of TSN comes down to efficiency.

Consider this

What other benefits can TSN provide to manufacturers?