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FIELDBUS & NETWORKS OPC UA over TSN, connecting future-ready factories

Jul 7, 2020

As factories steer to implement strategies for digitalisation, increased networking requirements are inevitable to make the enterprise more adaptive to changing market demands. Plus, interoperability in a factory is a significant element, where industrial networks play a pivotal part to guarantee smooth connectivity till the end. This article by B&R Industrial Automation, a company who has been inspired and guided by the pursuit of perfection in automation for over 40 years, throws light on how OPC UA is eliminating the need for traditional factory level fieldbus systems, how it reduces the engineering effort in configuration and setting up data exchange between systems and the transformation of industrial network to enhance process capabilities. - Ranjithkumar G, Specialist - Technology and Network, B&R Industrial Automation

Digitalisation is an important growth catalyst & concurrently a major disruptor for the manufacturing sector. Digitalisation focuses to foster the integration of IT technologies with machines, solutions and services across the complete value chain, which enhances entire product and service life cycles. The new-age technologies open doors to unprecedented new business opportunities and customer value. However, this is only possible if meaningful information can be shared openly & securely across each level in a factory. Therefore, interoperability in a factory is an important paradigm and industrial networks plays a significant role to ensure a seamless connectivity from end-to-end.

Transformation of industrial network to enhance process capabilities

The communication in a shop floor has sharply evolved over decades. The manufacturing industry saw migration from analogue signal to fieldbus networks. The fieldbus supports rapid exchange of data between individual systems, generally over great distances measured in baud per second. However, fieldbuses brought its own challenges. They differ according to their transmission medium, maximum number of data bytes per telegram, topologies, data traffic management and redundant architectures. Building over the increasing demand for communication paved way to the growth of industrial ethernet.

With the advent of superior bandwidth and speed, excellent flexibility and large established product ecosystem, ethernet adoption in industries has been rapid and comprehensive. The real-time ethernet network integrates all components in industrial automation, such as PLCs, sensors, I/O modules, motion controllers, safety controls, safety sensors and actuators and HMI systems. The protocols were devised to give users a single, consistent and integrated means for handling all communication tasks in modern automation. Although industrial networks are based on Ethernet IEEE 802.1, they commonly incorporate additional mechanisms to provide latency guarantees that, in turn, are often incompatible with each other. As a result, the real-time ethernet solution market nowadays is severely fragmented and, due to the lack of compatibility, is crippled, concerning future development. The manufacturing ecosystem seeking to automate operations has typically found itself locked into proprietary systems through conflicting connectivity standards. This has limited technological innovation and industrial transformation.

Challenges with existing industrial ecosystem

The manufacturing industry has many complex operational and communication requirements. In addition, the implementation of IoT brings its own connectivity challenges. The protocols applied on an IoT platform faces risk of interacting with the shop floor machines that demand an interface system to converge Information Technology (IT) with Operational Technology (OT). The process lines, machines, sensors, servers, clients, applications and different devices produce numerous outputs and data points. The data often needs to be exchanged between machines and enterprise system and ultimately analysed to improve production rates, reduce downtime, enhance quality, increase profits and identify new business models. The entire ecosystem demands an open, unified horizontal connectivity, like machine-to-machine communication & vertical connectivity, like machine to IT in order to establish a seamless interoperability.

Open source technology for industrial interoperability

Open standards bridge the gap between enterprise IT and the production floor. The proven open communication protocol Open Platform Communication Unified Architecture (OPC UA) is eliminating the need for traditional factory level fieldbus systems. The soft facts, like easy implementation, openness, vendor independent, risk avoidance, conformity, interoperability, long-term availability and overall distribution make OPC UA gain acceptance in industries. A typical automotive industry consists of multiple stations on assembly line and it becomes evident to connect each station and share data in real-time to control the process. Data from the assembly line also needs to be shared on Andon system to give the factory supervisor a holistic update on the shop floor situation. OPC UA suffices the need of collaborating each station on the assembly line as well with the central monitoring system. The client-server-based protocol allows seamless communication from the individual sensors and actuators on the production line and links up to the ERP system or the cloud.

OPC UA is the main successor to classic OPC, with a key advantage of platform independence. OPC UA can be easily incorporated with Windows, Linux, Mac, Android and other platforms, which is significant for the manufacturing industry, such as FMCG, where machines and systems are often running on different platforms. The FMCG industry uses OPC UA to connect the entire supply chain and access data over remote in a secured way. The built-in security mechanisms, like authentication, authorisation, encryption and data integrity through certificates makes OPC UA the most secured protocol for data exchange. In addition, OPC UA can accommodate legacy systems on production line with the existing infrastructure and allows for scalability. This reduces the investment by factory owners to make brownfield machines IoT-enabled.

OPC UA reduces the engineering effort in configuration and setting up data exchange between systems. The industry specific information are standardised, such as for injection moulding, robotics, machine vision etc in OPC UA servers, in the form of companion specification. Rapid growth in companion specification of various industries makes OPC UA a preferred platform with the world’s largest ecosystem for interoperability. It is designed for scalability and supports a wide range of application domains, ranging from field level to enterprise management. Applications include discrete automation, batch and continuous process control, connectivity within and between machines, IIoT communications between devices, edge controllers and cloud systems.

OPC UA goes real-time

OPC UA has had its limitations when it came to complex processes with real-time requirements until now. Adoption of publish-subscribe model (pub/sub) and implementation of IEEE 802.1 standard for Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) aims to give the OPC UA communication standard real-time capability. TSN is an extended ethernet standard to add the guaranteed determinism to OPC UA, with low latency and jitter cycles and prioritising data traffic. TSN gives flexibility to handle large volume of data, with plug and produce model adopting the security measures of OPC UA. The performance of TSN over existing real-time ethernet protocols has proven to be 18 times better over the gigabit ethernet communication.

In the shop floor of an industry, TSN enables the convergence of numerous small, isolated machines into one, unified network structure. The network can accommodate the requirements for real-time communication on a larger scale, while providing more transmission bandwidth for IT data. In factory automation, network convergence enables distributed real-time control, such as large machinery and numerous robots that can interact with each other more precisely and flexibly. Factories can enable applications, such as predictive maintenance using OPC UA over TSN, that require the analysis of substantial amounts of sensor data in real-time to make decisions on controlling machine downtime. TSN offers converged network for secure remote access of production line to perform maintenance tasks remotely. B&R is driving the initiative of OPC UA over TSN shapers group, which has gained traction with the inclusion of major global players from automation, electronics, robotics, software and networks, with a common vision to enable an open, unified, standard-based Industrial IoT communication solution between sensors, actuators, controllers and cloud, addressing all the requirements of industrial automation.

Making the factory future-ready with OPC UA over TSN

The need of the hour is to select an ideal communication standard to converge OT and IT to yield long-term benefits. OPC UA is well positioned to address key interoperability challenges in the industry, ensuring higher profits and reduced operational expenses. With the flexibility of TSN, adding security and complete independence to handle real-time data, shapes OPC UA over TSN as the ideal communication protocol for implementation of Industry 4.0 and making the factory future-ready.

Image Gallery

  • With flexible topologies, OPC UA over TSN merges both time-critical application and enterprise data on the same network, providing seamless connectivity

  • FOPC over TSN proves to be an open, unified and secured communication for IIoT applications

  • Ranjithkumar G,
    Specialist - Technology and Network,
    B&R Industrial Automation

    Ranjithkumar G,
    Specialist - Technology and Network,
    B&R Industrial Automation

    B&R Industrial Automation

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