Despite the havoc that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked on the American economy, along with continuing supply chain issues, the Federal Reserve of the United States has predicted GDP growth of 3.9% in 2022.
Seeing light at the end of the tunnel, heavyweights in the manufacturing industry are planning to expand production capacities in a faster, more precise manner in response to increasing demand. However, this turnaround is dependent on the willingness of companies to embrace innovative technologies that will enable them to enhance production efficiency and reduce maintenance costs.
One such technology is Time-sensitive networking (TSN). It has been touted as a means to help Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications achieve higher production efficiency as well as lower maintenance costs.
Industry players who have started to use TSN technologies have demonstrated to the world that TSN is not just an embryonic idea, but a concrete technology. And yet, before we look to the future, there are questions you should be asking before making TSN investments.
1. What Are the Benefits of Adopting TSN?
As a refresher, TSN is a collection of standards that enables deterministic messaging over standard Ethernet networks. As defined by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), TSN involves a form of network traffic management to ensure non-negotiable time frames for end-to-end transmission latencies.
Consequently, all TSN devices must synchronize their clocks with each other and use a common time reference to support real-time communications for industrial control applications.
The two ultimate goals of TSN are the seamless incorporation of accurate, time-sensitive data into industrial processes and a detailed and holistic view of operations in order for business owners to quickly respond to market demands in real-time.
By using TSN technologies, business owners can achieve the following benefits:
- TSN facilitates high-speed networking, large volumes of data transmission, highly accurate motion control, and low latency.
- TSN can prioritize network traffic, which guarantees real-time communication and means time-critical data will be delivered to the right place at the right time. In other words, the aim of a converged application on one unified network will be accomplished in industrial automation based on standard Ethernet. Eventually, it will be feasible to have one unified network for diversified applications. This eliminates the concern that time-critical data would not reach its destination in time.
- TSN can enhance network security because accurate data transmission can be scheduled to avoid the inflow of non-authorized data.
2. Is “One Unified Network” Important?
Yes, the convergence of OT and IT networks that results in one unified network is required to facilitate accurate and coordinated data that can provide insights into production processes. However, it is extremely difficult to bring the convergence to fruition if there are gaps between the two sides, not to mention integrating isolated proprietary automation islands into OT environments.
One unified network includes the following benefits:
- A single industry standard used for communication.
- Minimal training effort to understand different vendor's protocols
- Reduced cabling and maintenance costs
3. What Are Potential Applications for TSN?
Even though TSN evolved from Audio Video Bridging (AVB), the use of TSN is not restricted to audio or video applications. It's the promising features and benefits of TSN that make it indispensable to a wide range of applications that are extensively used across various industries including semiconductor, automotive, machinery, food & beverage, chemical, and power generation.
Of course, each TSN application comes with its specific requirements, and currently, there is a substantial gap between existing TSN standards and application-specific TSN systems.
4. Is It Feasible for My Applications To Use TSN Technologies?
If you tick off more than three of the following statements, then TSN may be an ideal solution for your organization.
- You experience huge costs when integrating either standard or proprietary communication technologies.
- It is very expensive to debug an existing network system due to an isolated networking structure.
- The network system is difficult to manage and you are required to develop tools, which takes additional time, money, and effort.
- You have interoperability issues between existing systems and the IT system.
- Higher network bandwidth is required when developing a new automated system.
- You need to enhance network security.
5. My Organization Is Fine With the Existing Production Processes and Network Setup. Why Should I Consider Deploying TSN?
For the time being, an organization may be satisfied with production output. However, in the long term, it will find it difficult to keep up with competitors as they embrace TSN.
On the one hand, you can still expand production based on the existing infrastructure, but the expansion will be stretched to the limit when you find, for instance, the conveyor belt is communicating with the HMI by Profinet.
On the other hand, the motion control that requires hard real-time is using EtherCAT, and the robotic arm control is using another protocol, such as Mitsubishi CC-Link IE.
Even though it is comparatively easy to make use of add-on blocks as deemed necessary, managing all of these devices from different vendors who use a variety of industrial Ethernet technologies is very difficult. When each cell is isolated, there are many obstacles to just integrating the data, not to mention fine-tuning the processes and improving production efficiency.
In the long term, the result will see moving in the opposite direction of realizing Industry 4.0 and IIoT applications. It will also hinder or prevent the deployment of plug-and-produce solutions when extra applications, such as machine vision and motion cameras, are attempted to be added onto one unified network.
In conclusion, it is the convergence between IT and OT networks that enable Industry 4.0 and IIoT applications. TSN achieves this by linking up these networks, which creates significant advantages in network connectivity and reduces costs when deploying systems.
Even though some manufacturing professionals remain under the misapprehension that TSN is still an unproven technology, it has actually evolved into more than just TSN switches, PLCs, servos, and IOs, and into an ecosystem that helps accomplish the goals of IIoT and Industry 4.0 applications.