In this new world of the Industrial Internet of Things, is ProfiNet still relevant as an industrial network (fieldbus)? Is there a future for ProfiNet?

These were the questions I had heading into Phoenix and the 22nd annual meeting of PI North America. And I received answers.

Karsten Schneider, director of Profibus International, gave the technology update keynote and raised several interesting points.

More nodes of ProfiNet were sold in 2015 than were nodes of Profibus. This is the anticipated crossover point where Ethernet is becoming the dominant bus as well as network. Further, cooperation between PI and the Fieldcomm organization (combination of HART Communication Foundation and Fieldbus Foundation) has proceeded with agreement between FDI and EDDL. Further cooperation was obvious by the presence of a representative of the CLPA (CC-Link Partners Association). CLPA and PI have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a standard method of communicating from one bus to the other.

Remember the “fieldbus wars”? Well, “times change.”

Time Sensitive Networking

Many application areas beyond industrial seriously need higher speed, determinism, real-time in their networks. Think of the growth of video streaming in real time, for example. Therefore the IEEE has been working on a new standard–Time Sensitive Networking or TSN.The standard is being built on IEEE 802.1. Many tremendous benefits will follow.

Think on this tidbit. When adopted as a standard, it will likely be build into commercial Ethernet chips. With a large number of industries wanting this technology, the number of TSN-enabled commercially available Ethernet chips will be huge. With huge commercial market potential, the price will drop. TSN Ethernet chips will be readily available and affordable for industrial devices. This will also likely replace Profinet IRT in the future (but not for a few years).

Take note that this will be a generally available and used chipset. It will primarily be IT oriented, but used also by OT. Perhaps this is the technology that brings the two together?

Future Work

A wide-ranging panel discussion sparked the creative juices of the group. One topic became the future engineer. We’ve had mechanical engineers, control engineers, data (software) engineers. Panelists expect that in the not-very-distant future, engineers will be multi-disciplinary.

I’ve maintained for several years that control and automation engineers must become network engineers–at least to a certain level. It is becoming even more important that they know something about SQL, programming in languages such as C, C++, Java, Python, and in scripting languages. Depending upon what sort of industry within manufacturing/production they should also be familiar with mechatronics or processes, too.

Is there a future for ProfiNet? Yes, but it will look only slightly like the present.

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