Why TSN will soon be a must-have for competitive manufacturing

Advanced industrial networks that incorporate time-sensitive networking (TSN) can benefit from high-speed, reliable communications for smart manufacturing applications.

By Thomas Burke June 18, 2021

The smart factories of the future are highly productive, flexible and responsive because of their ability to leverage the power of data, which can offer a unique understanding of what is happening on the factory floor in real-time. As a result, companies can run automated processes to ensure smooth operations at all times, maximizing their efficiency. The backbones of such systems are their networks, which connect every part within a plant or enterprise to share key information. In order to support digital manufacturing functions, these infrastructures should be able to ensure the large volume of data generated is transmitted with high reliability and in a timely manner. The move towards gigabit bandwidth is further supporting these requirements.

Time-sensitive networking (TSN) can provide further support and help businesses create data-driven operations. Christian Bergdahl, product marketing manager at HMS Industrial Networks, said: “The most emphasized feature of this technology is its ability to turn standard industrial Ethernet into a real-time communications system with extremely low jitter and latency. Therefore, it provides the key network technology to support the latest data-driven solutions and smart manufacturing applications. These, in turn, are essential to help companies enhance productivity by creating responsive and flexible shop floors.”

More than simple determinism

Bergdahl said, “TSN will make industrial Ethernet deterministic by design and provide the basis of converged networks. In effect, the technology is being defined by the IEEE 802.1 specifications, which will set up a common, unified solution. As a result, any user will be able to benefit from a highly reliable and responsive network, whose nature supports interconnectedness, independently of vendor-specific solutions. This ultimately ensures openness and interoperability among automation devices and systems, simplifying the creation of well-linked plants and enterprises.”

Furthermore, TSN has the ability to bring different parts of an enterprise, such as the operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) sectors closer together.

“The technology was originally developed for transferring audio and video streams in commercial applications. Only later, this solution has been looked at to support industrial automation systems. As a result, TSN applications in a given sector will be influenced by the developments in another segment, shaping and converging the future of the technology and industries themselves,” Bergdahl said. This unique feature will also play a crucial role in enhancing the acceptance of TSN.

Automation system builders and end users are highly perceptive and well aware of the potential of TSN, particularly its ability to provide a unified way towards interoperability. Therefore, many companies are actively looking forward to adopting this technology. Furthermore, it is a well-accepted concept that TSN will certainly become a must-have in the short- to mid-term. In fact, the extensive roll out of innovative industrial Ethernet solutions is a matter of when, not if – and businesses are ready to act now.

Currently, the creation of TSN-based solutions is experiencing a growth phase and it is certainly a thrilling time for the technology specialists.

Bergdahl said, “Fieldbuses and conventional Ethernet have been established for many years. Now that the innovation of TSN is here, engineers are up for a new challenge as they develop new products with ground-breaking capabilities. It is truly inspiring to see how committed and motivated these teams are.”

Proactive development of TSN solutions

A challenge in driving the TSN revolution may be shaping successful collaborations between automation vendors, according to Bergdahl. “As the key element of TSN is interoperability, specialists need to be willing to collaborate closely to develop suitable systems and migration solutions. Within such a framework, existing networks of key automation players, such as the CLPA, are on the right path and have a competitive advantage”.

– Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

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.