What could the future of industrial communications look like?

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What could the future of industrial communications look like?

The world of industrial communications is moving forward faster than ever before, with breakthrough technologies quickly taking shape and providing unmatched capabilities as well as performance. These developments are helping to create flexible, responsive, and simplified networks that are enabling advanced digital manufacturing activities to be realized.

Thomas Burke, Global Strategic Advisor at CLPA, looks at the most promising network technologies and innovations as well as how they are revolutionizing industrial communications.

There are a lot of interesting technologies that have the potential to offer great opportunities for industrial and commercial uses in the information era. End users are recognizing the value of data and are keen to leverage all new devices that can act as data sources.

Today’s manufacturers are exploring the future, which is the present opportunity to connect the multitude of disparate devices and integrate them into a smart factory. Once the connections are made, it is possible to leverage the power of data, which really drives the digital transformation of businesses.

More precisely, to make their production processes more agile, productive, and leaner, future-oriented companies are implementing data-driven manufacturing strategies. These rely on increasingly high-speed and reliable connections in enterprise-wide networks. The latest innovations in industrial communications are being shaped to address these precise needs with highly effective solutions.

It all starts with TSN

A key development in industrial communications is certainly Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN). This is an Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) Layer 2 technology defined by IEEE 802.1 that enhances standard Ethernet and enables digital manufacturing applications. It does so by offering consistent deterministic capabilities with low latency and jitter, even as large volumes of different kinds of data are merged into a single network.

As a result, companies can reduce the number of separate networks within their enterprises, considerably cutting cabling needs while supporting information sharing for data-driven manufacturing. The first TSN-compatible network devices are now being released to the market, enabling automation specialists and end users to create innovative applications.

Splitting the cable

An additional interesting feature of TSN is its ability to support other new and promising industrial network technologies that are in currently being developed. A key example is Single Pair Ethernet (SPE), which transmits data over a single pair of copper wires, rather than four pairs. As well as transferring data, SPE also provides a simultaneous power supply to terminal devices via Power over Data Line (PoDL), enabling Power over Ethernet (PoE) capabilities.

An SPE physical layer can therefore push the benefits offered by TSN even further by deliver significant cost reductions, space savings, greater coverage, and enhanced performance. In particular, SPE can help to effectively connect an ever-increasing number of sensors, actuators, and I/O modules at the field level with higher-level enterprise systems, even at great distances, for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications.

By incorporating SPE and adding power to the wire, it is possible to add more data sources in existing facilities to monitor production activities.  Right now, manufacturers find it challenging to retrofit their existing systems because of the multitude of networks they rely on. By simplifying these with a single cable that is also capable of transferring power, businesses can potentially reduce their installation costs while connecting many more data sources.

Going wireless

As businesses move towards the future of industrial communications, they will need fewer cables – eventually using more wireless technologies that incorporate TSN functionalities. This will help create network architectures with unprecedented levels of flexibility while increasing data accessibility and availability to support a wide range of activities, such as enhanced remote monitoring.

More precisely, wireless technology has been around for a long time and has been successfully used in the IT world, in the consumer marketplace as well as for home automation application. Now the technology is evolving to support industrial applications. In effect, the latest 5G and 802.11 Wi-Fi standards support ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC), which can be combined with TSN to provide highly accurate time synchronization. This combination allows 5G to offer communications with bounded low latency, low-delay variation, and extremely low data loss.

Jump into the future now

It is an exciting time for industrial communications, with ground-breaking technologies quickly emerging and helping to build the connected factories of the future that generate an unprecedented level of business intelligence. In addition to the benefits that the individual technologies provide, their ability to be combined is particularly interesting for automation specialists and end users. In effect, these can offer synergistic effects while also delivering solutions for continuous improvement and network migration strategies.

It is clear to see how TSN can be integrated with the latest developments in network communications, such as SPE, 5G, and Wi-Fi. Forward-looking companies should implement TSN compatible technologies now to reap the immediate benefits while also futureproofing their systems and preparing themselves for the next advances in industrial communications.

Businesses are able to futureproof their industrial networks now with TSN. This provides a key, high-performance gateway to support current communications needs and technologies while providing a strong and future-oriented backbone to create tomorrow’s networks.

More about How IIoT enables the factory of the future

About the author

This article was written by Tom Burke, the strategic advisor for the CC Link Partner Association.