Guest Blogs Industry 4.0 Internet of Things Technology

How TSN Enables The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Industry 4.0

Guest blog from René Hummen

Since the early days of manual production, manufacturing successfully transitioned through three industrial revolutions, each leading to a significant increase in automation, productivity, and efficiency. Notably, all of these revolutions were coupled with the introduction of new technologies. Mass manufacturing, for example, would not have been possible without the introduction of water and steam power in the 18th century. Electric power and the invention of the assembly line further boosted volume production at the beginning of the 20th century. And approximately 45 years ago, electronics and IT changed the way how goods are produced yet again.

With the advent of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial IoT (IIoT), the fourth industrial revolution is already right on its way, promising a new degree of automation as well as novel business models based on data and services. Corresponding to these prospects, new enabling technologies aim to facilitate a smooth transition to this next level of manufacturing.

Predictions Worth Investing In

Speaking with small and medium sized enterprises (SME) about an industrial revolution, its related technologies, and new production strategies, however, often seems to create uncertainty rather than excitement. The reason might be that we are currently still predicting and defining the production models of the future without knowing with absolute certainty, which technologies will bring success in the end. So, let’s start from there.

Looking back, the first three industrial revolutions have all been tied to inventions that had a huge impact on the way that goods were produced. It is therefore conceivable that one key technology will be identified for the next revolution as well.

Many of us will agree that the IoT is the key trend driving Industry 4.0 and that ultra-low power processing, wireless connectivity and cloud computing are key technologies in this trend. Time Sensitive Networking (TSN), however, might be identified as the technology making the biggest contribution to the shift towards Industry 4.0 by enabling these technologies in the context of manufacturing in the first place.

In order to understand this conclusion and to learn how TSN impacts manufacturing as well as enables the IIoT, we will have to take a step back and look at where Industry 4.0 is heading based on the current “Industry 3.0”. This exercise will furthermore draw a good picture of how SMEs can profit from this shift and how they can manage it without fearing to invest in the wrong technologies.

The Automation Model Changes

Currently, manufacturing is well described by the established model of the automation pyramid. In this model, the processes and applications of complex manufacturing systems are grouped into hierarchical layers.

Transition to Industry 4.0 with TSN
The transition from Industry 3.0 to Industry 4.0 and its implications (Image: Belden)

At the bottom of the automation pyramid,  the field level consists of sensors and actuators, which perform basic processes such as adjusting rotation speed. Above, at the control layer, PLCs usually process and control field-level operations and visualize field-level data. The top levels, the MES/SCADA and ERP layers, handle regulation as well as process and production planning.

In the pyramid model, data is exchanged horizontally within each layer and between adjacent layers. Such communication is achieved through a variety of communication technologies (and gateways), which fulfill different requirements such as real-time communication at the field level and high-speed communication at the top levels. There are, however, no (or only very few) direct interactions across multiple of these layers. This typically renders valuable field-level data inaccessible from the top layers.

New IIoT applications, such as secure remote access for remote maintenance and industrial big data for continuous process optimization and predictive maintenance, however, commonly rely on field-level data and can therefore no longer be supported with the strict pyramid model. Instead, they require a new model, the “automation pillar” (learn more about this new automation model and TSN here).

This new model is more open and flexible and can support new requirements such as strong vertical communication. As a result, certain PLC functionality as well as SCADA and ERP systems can be virtualized and relocated to a local or remote cloud. At the same time, this model also considers the ever increasing number of smart devices and sensors at the field level, which facilitate highly time-critical control functions such as safety to move to the field level.

TSN Links Technologies And Companies

As data exchange is now taking place between and across multiple layers in the automation model, a new communication standard, which fulfills the requirements of all layers – real-time and high-speed – is needed. In order to manage the transition to Industry 4.0 smoothly, it is also desirable that this standardized technology is flexible, scalable and evolves over time, according to new requirements as well as bandwidth needs.

TSN is such a solution! It consists of a set of standards, created by the IEEE 802.1 working group specifically with the requirements of Industry 4.0 in mind. TSN enables the convergence of conventional Ethernet traffic with data that requires “hard” real-time guarantees. In doing so, TSN networks can easily be scaled and modified using a desired combination of TSN standards, e.g., to enable guaranteed latency for time-critical messages (find a full overview of TSN standards here).

With these capabilities, TSN not only affords real-time communication close to the field level, it also enables the converged network layer that connects the field level and the factory backbone in the automation pillar. As an open, vendor-independent and interoperable communication technology, it is the corner stone for many IIoT applications in manufacturing.

Having said that, companies should feel encouraged to invest in TSN to form a basis to implement Industry 4.0 related technologies such as cloud computing and big data analysis step by step as they mature and get manageable and affordable. This strategy will enable producers of goods to position themselves in order to profit from the next industrial revolution.

Both, Belden and EBV are actively involved in the development of TSN-enabled applications and networks that help factories to implement the network structure necessary to take the leap into the future of automation and production.

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Author Bio:

René Hummen joined Belden in 2015, where he is working at the Future Technologies department of Belden’s Industrial IT platform. With his work, René plays a crucial role in shaping the future of Industrial Ethernet and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). He identifies and analyzes future technology trends, contributes to standardization, and performs research projects in the field of industrial networking. His passions include Time Sensitive Networking (TSN), Software-Defined Networking (SDN), and Cyber Security. René graduated and holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from RWTH Aachen University. In his Ph.D. thesis, René investigated lightweight network security mechanisms for the IP-based IoT.

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