What is TSN? The backbone of future industrial ethernet networks

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Guest Blogger: René Hummen joined Belden in 2015, where he is working in 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.

If you follow new trends and technologies for machine and process, you’ve likely been hearing a lot about time sensitive networking (TSN). But, since it’s a relatively new technology, have you been wondering, “what is TSN?” and “why does it matter to my company?”

As you may already know, this new technology transforms standard Ethernet from an “I’ll get it there as soon as I can” communications technology to one that provides timing guarantees for mission-critical applications. Now, you can achieve an entirely new level of determinism in IEEE 802.1 and IEEE 802.3 Ethernet networks.

Many industrial automation applications today, such as motion control in discrete manufacturing, establish strict delay requirements to ensure that real-time data transmissions can support the application demands.   Many current automation control solutions to meet these requirements are based on conventional Ethernet. However, to achieve real-time communication, they unfortunately include additional technical mechanisms such as protocol enhancements that are incompatible to each other.

The result is a real-time Ethernet solution market that is severely fragmented, and simply won’t support future developments. Some of these developments include the need for increased bandwidth as well as higher information transparency between the field level and the enterprise level as advocated by trends such as Industry 4.0. Importantly, TSN caters to these developments and represents the next step in the evolution of dependable and standardized industrial communication technology. 

TSN and IIoT networks of the future

For some time (and even today), the field of industrial automation existed in a period of transition. We’re all striving to achieve the vision of more flexible and dynamic production facilities – far beyond what is currently possible. This, however, only works when the communication infrastructure that ties these IIoT requirements together can provide two essential services at the same time in the same network:

  • Strict and dependable real-time communication to enable demanding applications (such as motion control) on a large scale, flexibly distributed throughout entire automation networks and
  • High bandwidth across the automation networks to support the large numbers of sensors and background data that is required to drive IIoT applications such as predictive maintenance and big data analysis.

As TSN satisfies these requirements, it will only become more important in communications infrastructures as greater numbers of devices are connected under the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industrie 4.0 revolution and as the communication requirements diversify further. 

From the automation pyramid to the automation pillar 

The transition of automation networks from the old into a new architecture can be visualized by how the well-known automation pyramid will develop in the coming years.

Due to the new IIoT requirements, the familiar Automation Pyramid is expected to transform into an Automation Pillar.

The Automation Pyramid use to separate complex industrial networks and applications into functional levels with high horizontal interaction. Within each layer of the pyramid, the networked devices showed strong interaction with each other and the adjacent layers. However, it is rare to see direct communication across multiple layers of the entire automation system: Systems built on this structure are strictly hierarchical and not very flexible.

The latest technology, however, allows networks to stray away from the strict pyramid model that can no longer support these requirements. Instead, they move to a new model, the Automation Pillar, which is more open and flexible and can support new requirements such as strong vertical communication and a strengthened industrial backbone with significant computational power. This creates new business opportunities and helps organizations set and achieve greater success milestones. 

What does this mean to you? More robust network planning, configuration and monitoring, seamless fault-tolerant communication and enhanced cyber security will be a necessity in the networks of the future. Combined with TSN, which guarantees the well-timed transmission of low bandwidth, high priority network traffic and simultaneously affords the full utilization of the high bandwidth offered by Ethernet for network traffic with weak or no latency requirements.

About Belden

As an early innovator in industrial Ethernet, and a long time strategic partner with Schneider Electric in the Schneider Electric Collaborative Automation Partner Program (aka, CAPP), Belden knows industrial IT and delivers the next generation of industrial networking solutions, including wired, wireless and embedded products. With its global brands – Hirschmann, GarrettCom and Tofino Security – Belden helps companies minimize downtime and take advantage of the real-time data access and control made possible by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Through a seamless, secure and scalable industrial Ethernet infrastructure, companies are equipped to revolutionize their operations and achieve improved efficiency, productivity and agility.

About Belden and the Schneider Electric Collaborative Automation Partner Program (CAPP)

Operated by the Schneider Electric Industry business unit, CAPP brings together best-in-class product and technology companies who contribute to build a complete solution by integrating their strategic partner products with the Schneider Electric offer. Through their Hirschmann brand, Belden is a long-standing and highly regarded Gold partner member of CAPP. Customers of all types across many industries have benefited from this collaborative combination of industry leading capabilities.

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  • Fabricio Andrade

    6 years ago

    Really interesting article, thank you for sharing!

  • Automação Industrial

    6 years ago

    Great article, René! Really good stuff.

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