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Enabling Interoperability to Ensure the Success of TSN in Industry 4.0

Jack Lin     Nov 11, 2019
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Time-sensitive networking (TSN) is essentially the next stage in the evolution of standard Ethernet technologies in order to meet the future requirements of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). TSN enables standard Ethernet networks to provide deterministic services and integrate individual automation sectors that were previously isolated by the numerous purpose-built protocols of the past.

Interoperability Is the Key to the Success of TSN

TSN technologies offer a scalable and predictable approach to deterministic networking over standard Ethernet. But since TSN is more of a toolbox than a single comprehensive solution, system integrators must ultimately rely on independent vendors and multiple protocols to meet the specific requirements of each industrial application. This predicament is precisely why interoperability is the key to ensuring the success of TSN adoption. Ultimately, a unified infrastructure based on TSN fundamentally requires interoperability on two critical fronts:

  1. Common architecture that is TSN compliant for Layer 2 networking and messaging
  2. Common semantics for communication across multiple protocols

The Road Toward IIoT and Industry 4.0

Common Architecture: Layer 2 Interoperability

As a deterministic Ethernet standard, TSN is essentially a Layer 2 technology within the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model of computer networking. Also called the Data Link Layer, Layer 2 encompasses technologies that are programmed to forward Ethernet frames. In other words, TSN is not a new technology, but it is all about the extension of IEEE 802.1—Ethernet. Ethernet can ensure the data transmission in real time, but it cannot guarantee precisely when the data will arrive.

In order to fulfill the Industry 4.0 requirements, which include deterministic communication over low-latency networks, robustness despite high network loads, and converged data transport for both information technology (IT) and operation technology (OT), an IEEE working group developed the open TSN standards.

With TSN-ready Ethernet switches, system integrators can fulfill the high-bandwidth real-time requirements of Industry 4.0 without changing their existing application programs. Furthermore, they can do all of this and even add “plug-and-produce” devices to converged networks by simply using standard IEEE Ethernet switches.

Common Semantics: Protocol Interoperability Beyond Layer 2

Even though devices within the autonomous pyramid of the future can be developed by independent vendors, each piece of equipment must be able to communicate with every other component in the system—not just Layer 2 devices—in order to realize the full potential of the IIoT. Besides removing the barriers that isolate traditional islands of automation at the Layer 2 level, a successful TSN implementation requires protocol interoperability across layers to enable more flexible topologies and open up new opportunities for industrial applications.

For example, industry organizations around the world—including the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA), EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG), Ethernet Powerlink Standardization Group (EPSG), Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA), Open DeviceNet Vendors Association (ODVA), and PROFIBUS & PROFINET International (PI), and more—are coalescing around the OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) and companion specs for achieving common semantics among different vendors and standards.

Complete Interoperability for Industrial Automation

The Unified Foundation of Industrial Networking

As the IIoT requires high-bandwidth, low-latency, deterministic networking to enable real-time communications for industrial control systems, TSN brings standard Ethernet technologies that can provide deterministic services, evolving beyond their traditional limitations of best-effort communications. Manufacturers no longer need to confine their applications to isolated islands of automation and control systems. Instead, industrial applications can look forward to an integrated future with new bilateral communication flows that transcend the horizontal and vertical compartments of the traditional Purdue model.

As international standards organizations and device vendors like Moxa continue to coalesce around TSN, it is obvious that this standard Ethernet technologies will become the future foundation of industrial networking.

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