You can create automation devices with TSN now – here’s how

19th May 2022
Paige West

Companies driving their digital transformation journeys are demanding access to all data in their manufacturing systems. This is being delivered by the concept of network convergence, enabled by Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) as part of industrial Ethernet.

This permits the combination of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) domains, and allows multiple types of traffic to flow together on shop floor networks. Product vendors who address this can leverage their existing solutions to quickly provide next-level capabilities. Knowing how to start, how to support TSN based industrial Ethernet protocols and how to leverage a corresponding development ecosystem, is key to ensuring success.

John Browett, General Manager of CLPA Europe, looks at how to fit TSN within existing platforms and communications protocols.

TSN is an innovative Ethernet technology defined by IEEE 802.1 standards that resides at Layer 2 of the OSI 7 layer model. This is quickly proving its essential role in the Connected Industries of the Future thanks to its unique ability to support convergence on the factory floor as well as between IT and OT worlds. Its importance is being acknowledged by various industries, which are recognising the value of automation solutions with TSN capabilities.

More precisely, by driving network convergence, this innovative technology can support the creation of simpler architectures and machine designs. Also, by improving the integration of OT and IT systems, enhance process transparency and, in turn, increase productivity, performance and efficiency.

Device vendors may be wondering if the time is right to adopt TSN. In fact, there is a strong case for acting now, as it offers a competitive advantage to vendors, machine builders and end users. Implementing this technology within their products today is a safe bet that can enhance competitiveness and market share. Many businesses are currently undergoing their digital transformation and it is key for automation vendors to support them now with future-oriented devices. Even more, with typical life cycles of 20-25 years for automation components, adding future-oriented technologies, such as TSN, in factories is key to drive differentiation and competitiveness in the short run, while being able to adapt over the long run.

For those who think maybe now is not the time for action, a clear parallel can be drawn between TSN and smartphone technology, which has been quickly transitioning from 2G to 3G, 4G and recently 5G. Instead of waiting for the ‘next’ technology, competitive manufacturers promptly implemented these advancements within their products as the technology landscape continued to evolve. This helped them to address immediate market demands. Most technical specialists will agree that any given technology continually evolves and therefore waiting for it to be ‘finished’ is a futile strategy that will see their companies falling behind.

TSN role within industrial Ethernet protocols

When adopting TSN, companies need to consider a number of practicalities. For example, forward-looking device vendors interested in adding TSN capabilities to their products may be wondering how TSN affects the general support that their solutions already offer for current industrial Ethernet protocols. To this end, it is important to note that this innovative technology was designed to improve standard Ethernet and it only operates at Layer 2 of the OSI model. TSN is intended to work with various protocols and support their convergence to enhance interconnectivity, helping users have different traffic types coexisting on a single network.

Ultimately, this technology is just a ‘pipe’ and therefore, industrial Ethernet protocols are still required to cover the remaining application use cases, such as safety and motion control. Hence it is important for device manufacturers to understand that TSN cannot replace all industrial Ethernet connectivity. Instead, they should leverage an industrial Ethernet solution that supports all key uses cases while also providing the convergence benefits that are offered by TSN, such as CC-Link IE TSN. This is the first open and widely supported network technology that combines gigabit bandwidth with TSN capabilities.

Upgrading automation devices

Once a key solution for industrial communications has been selected, companies should look at how to upgrade their products to provide these new capabilities. The development ecosystem available depends on the technology selected. For example, CC-Link IE TSN offers multiple options, both software- and hardware-based, which can offer different speeds of TSN implementation, device performance and certification classes.

As a result of the many development methods available, vendors can make sure that the right technical solution is available for the specific product they want to deliver. For instance, software protocol stacks are ideal for businesses interested in quickly implementing CC-Link IE TSN, as they offer perhaps the fastest method to enhance existing products by reducing in-house development time and costs. Furthermore, they are generally portable, so they can be applied with minimal changes. When performance is more important, hardware solutions are a better choice. These include Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), also referred to as dedicated communication Large Scale Integrations (LSIs), as well as Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs).

Leading solutions already in the market

Ultimately, while TSN will continue to evolve over time, as all new technologies do, automation vendors can already benefit from this technology and equip their devices with the capability to support innovative applications now. In effect, the number of products compatible with CC-Link IE TSN is continuously expanding.

For example, the latest embedded devices for real-time, high-performance control of industrial automation applications with CC-Link IE TSN have been released by CLPA partner NXP Semiconductors. These devices, among the first to leverage Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) technology, provide next-generation functions and features for advanced Connected Industries applications.

CC-Link IE TSN is already well-established today, and the ecosystem continues to grow rapidly. By leveraging this open network technology, both device vendors and machine builders can tap into new market opportunities quickly, futureproofing their businesses and their customers’ operations.     

Visit the CLPA on Stand 501, Hall 1 at embedded world 2022, from 21st-23rd June 2022, NürnbergMesse, Nuremberg, Germany

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