TSN becoming a must-have for manufacturers

Time-sensitive networking (TSN) is shaping the future of industrial network technology through convergence, process transparency and next-level communications.

By Thomas Burke November 5, 2021
Courtesy: CLPA

Time-sensitive networking (TSN) is acknowledged to represent the future of industrial Ethernet because it sets the foundation for data-driven interconnected, smart factories. More than a simple, product-level solution, the technology offers a systemic solution to support determinism, convergence and process transparency. These ground-breaking features are the reason why TSN adoption has already occurred with leading automation vendors.

The connected industries of the future will rely on a single, converged network. This facilitates access to data by enabling vertical and horizontal communications in order to share actionable insights across the entire enterprise. Ultimately, the knowledge gathered will drive productivity and competitiveness. By simplifying the architecture behind unified industrial communications, such a setup can also considerably simplify network architectures as well as maintenance activities, reducing costs.

Chih-Hong Lin, global technology partner manager at Moxa, said, “This vision for future-oriented data sharing, in line with Industry 4.0, is in stark contrast to legacy communications, characterized by ‘islands of automation’ where machines are mostly isolated. This means that we currently have to rely on multiple, often semi-proprietary standards to share data within the different layers of the automation pyramid.”

“Besides, each protocol can rarely communicate with the others, preventing the transfer of key information across the enterprise. Even more, as machines and systems expand, networks become increasingly complex to address these changes.”

Getting ready for next-gen networks

Therefore, existing network technologies – even when well established – may not be able to address the needs of next-gen industries. A first, significant step to address change is the use of solutions offering large bandwidth, i.e. 1 Gbit/s.

Lin said, “One of the reasons why systems have remained partially isolated is to avoid interference. As businesses move away from this model and enlarge their networks, they need sufficient bandwidth to guarantee time-critical data, such as control traffic, can always be transferred in a deterministic manner. By doing so, they can support more applications and start benefitting from the gains offered by converged networks.”

The next step is implementing TSN technology, whose relevance has rapidly grown. “When I first came across TSN, about five to six years ago, I thought it was just another technology with limited impact. But the more I learned about it, and as the standards behind TSN developed, the more I could see the game-changing role of this solution for next-level communications. It is now clear how TSN will change industrial automation and the way we currently run businesses,” Lin said.

Businesses are aware TSN is the enabler for Industry 4.0 as it can unleash their full potential by supporting converged, deterministic networks that are at the core of smart, interconnected factories.

“We see a growing number of very proactive players in the industry that are keen on adopting TSN. In particular, the Asian market is moving particularly fast, embracing the technology and developing innovative real-world applications and use cases. Nonetheless, more conservative companies, which may be more hesitant in investing in TSN now, still recognize the role of this solution in futureproof industrial automation,” Lin said.

Succeeding in TSN implementations

Being such a revolutionary technology, TSN requires a comprehensive ecosystem for its successful implementation. Chih-Hong Lin explains: “Adopting this technology means applying it on a systemic level, rather than as a single product. Therefore, two main requirements need to be addressed. Firstly, it is necessary to have strong support from an industrial Ethernet organization such as the CLPA, to deliver suitable TSN-compatible network technologies. Secondly, it is essential to have a broad range of available products supporting this technology. CC-Link IE TSN can meet these two requirements.” It is the first gigabit Ethernet with TSN capabilities and the most advanced solution currently available. Also, it offers the most complete system, with many compatible automation products on the market.

Thomas Burke, global strategic advisor at CLPA, said, “CC-Link IE TSN open network technology is ideal to start upgrading current industrial communications. It offers a key solution to support existing automation devices will providing the key TSN functionalities necessary for futureproof applications. Businesses interested in implementing it can rely on a broad development ecosystem, which includes both hardware and software routes, as well as compatible automation components for industry leaders.”

Through TSN capabilities, robots are working on a project.

Courtesy: CLPA

An additional aspect to succeed in embracing TSN is achieving interoperability. This is a must to address the need of the smart factories of the future. Moxa is actively taking part in a number of activities to overcome this issue.

“In addition to launching CC-Link IE TSN compatible products, we are involved in TSN testbeds as well as discussing with other leading automation vendors how to shape our solutions to support customers in the most effective way,” Lin said. “The key to success is collaborating. By working together as a team, automation vendors, machine builders and users can help shape TSN so that it addresses our needs.”

The future is already here

Lin said, “There are more and more real-world applications of TSN, and I expect to see larger scale implementations of this technology by next year, while mass adoption of TSN in entire factories should happen in the near future”

While many products and solutions are still being developed, Chih-Hong Lin concludes by suggesting companies should embrace change now. “A proactive approach is the most efficient, as it supports a stage-like implementation. Waiting until TSN is a mature technology will likely be too costly and time-consuming, while leaving businesses behind. Ultimately, I think TSN will become an industry standard. As adoption grows, more uses will be discovered, ultimately making this technology an essential element of industrial operations.”

Burke said, “The North American market for TSN is booming, with an expected increase in compound annual growth rate between 43% and 54% in the coming years. This shows that businesses are well aware of the benefits of next-level communications and are ready to embrace TSN and the future of industrial network 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.