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Combining IEEE TSN and OPC UA can reduce costs of network ownership

Belden is involved in Smart FactoryKL and other initiatives aimed at realising the vision of Industry 4.0. Since 2009, the company has made important contributions in the IEEE 802.1 working group task force for time-sensitive networks (TSN), toward the standardisation of a networking solution for applications with high real-time requirements.

Combining TSN with the open OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) specifications, which is the aim of a new working group of the OPC Foundation, will allow the Industry 4.0 vision of a high performance real-time capable network to be realised without any vendor-specific technology. This will also significantly reduce the cost of ownership of networking sophisticated Industry 4.0 installations. Belden is one of the companies that have signed up to join this new OPC working group, and with its knowledge and expertise from the standardisation process, Belden will be able to facilitate the necessary TSN knowledge transfer to the OPC group.

"All of our network devices use standardised technologies, since they offer users maximum flexibility, cost effectiveness and are future-proof," says Dr Oliver Kleineberg, advance development manager for Belden's Hirschmann brand. "This is why Belden has been supporting the development of TSN standards from the very beginning. Unlike proprietary solutions, this open real-time technology does not require any cost-intensive technology-specific chips." Dr Kleineberg expects this to generate a growing market acceptance and extend the spread of standards-based real-time Ethernet, which he considers a prerequisite for implementing the sophisticated Industry 4.0 applications.

However, the TSN specification - which is expected to be published between 2016 and 2018 in the form of various IEEE 802.1 specifications - standardises only the communication on Layer 2 and, together with Ethernet transceivers, the underlying physical layer. Since OPC UA is already available as an international specification for higher protocol layers that are primarily used for machine to machine communication, the OPC working group now intends to combine this with TSN. "This will result in an open architecture that can be used to fully network even the most demanding production processes," says Dr Kleineberg.

Such processes include modular Industry 4.0 production lines, which have to meet high real-time requirements, either for reasons of safety or to maintain extremely fast control cycles, and which also have varying layouts depending on the order situation. "OPC UA plus TSN can not only be used to enable the configuration of the participating machinery, but also to guarantee the necessary low end-to-end delay in direct machine to machine communication in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)," Dr Kleineberg explains. This standardised communication solution is an important step on the path to converting production processes from a rigid, centralised approach into one that is dynamic and decentralised.

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