Supplementing EtherCAT with TSN for Use in Heterogeneous Networks

Supplementing EtherCAT with TSN for Use in Heterogeneous Networks

Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) defines the future of networking. Most of the specifications have been agreed upon by the IEEE 802 committee, only a few remain to be completed. I have written a White Paper describing OPC UA over TSN for information communication. This corroborates the idea that information is where the new momentum lies within manufacturing and production technologies.

One topic of concern to many regards whether or not TSN will supplant current fieldbus technologies. Indeed, on the surface it appears that TSN can perform most, if not all, of those functions.

Therefore, it behooves the fieldbus groups to figure out how to work with this new technology in order to add value for users.

The EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG) has taken the initiative and supplemented EtherCAT with Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) technologies, expanding the field of possible EtherCAT applications to include heterogeneous network environments. With the help of TSN, industrial controls can contact a number of different EtherCAT segments in real-time through Ethernet networks.

In doing so, no changes to the EtherCAT slave devices are required: the EtherCAT Device Protocol, including all high performance characteristics, is fully preserved. Also expanded by TSN is the EtherCAT Automation Protocol (EAP) for communication between controls, which will result in even more deterministic performance on this level.

The ETG has specified the technology expansion in the form of a profile, which highlights the fact that no changes to the TSN standards are needed. This approach also considerably simplifies the adaptation to the final versions of the TSN technologies, because specification in the IEEE is not yet fully complete.

The ETG has supported the development of TSN from the very beginning through active participation in the IEEE committee, and is coordinating the specifications through a liaison with the IEEE 802.1 Working Group. This ensures that the ETG will also be able to access the IEEE 802.1 specifications that have not yet been adopted. Therefore, the technology can be introduced almost at the same time as TSN.

EtherCAT uses the TSN streams with any data rates for real-time communication above EtherCAT device segments. In the segment itself nothing is changed – the unique performance of the EtherCAT protocol built upon processing on the fly, highly precise synchronization, flexible topology selection, excellent diagnostic capabilities and simplicity through fully automated addressing of devices are all fully preserved. Similarly, the thousands of different EtherCAT devices available worldwide do not need to be modified at all. The stream adaptation feature that connects the EtherCAT segment to the heterogeneous TSN network can be placed either in the last TSN switch or in the first EtherCAT slave device.

Dr. Guido Beckmann, Chairman of the ETG Technical Committee classifies the new specification as such: “The incorporation of TSN standards will significantly improve the real-time characteristics of generic Ethernet. With our technology expansion we make use of TSN in an ideal way, and exactly where TSN can offer significant advantages – in the factory networks. As one frame is sufficient for EtherCAT to communicate with a whole segment, and thus with the entire fieldbus network, EtherCAT is virtually predestined for integration with TSN networks. We achieve this without turning our technology inside out. EtherCAT together with TSN offers the ‘best of both worlds’. Therefore, this prepares EtherCAT for the future perfectly.”

Are Partnerships the Future of Fieldbuses

Are Partnerships the Future of Fieldbuses

I have been wondering about the future of fieldbuses for quite some time. These include Profibus/Profinet, CC-Link, EtherNet/IP (CIP technologies), and even EtherCAT and PowerLink. Even HART, though not technically a fieldbus, fits the application. And the merger of HART’s organization with Foundation Fieldbus hints at the future.

I think that there will continue to be some development work with these technologies, but I also think that the next big advance will be with Time-Sensitive Networking. At some point in the not-to-distant future, TSN with commercially available components, will be the next communications revolution.

In the meantime, we are seeing what I’ve always believed to be the next useful application whether wired or wireless in industrial networking–gateways and connectors. Here is some news I received from the CC-Link Partner Association relating announcements from the SPS show (which I was unable to attend).

This case involves cooperation between the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) and PROFINET & PROFIBUS International (PI). CLPA unveiled the first working coupler device that implements the CC-Link IE/PROFINET interoperability specification. This will enable easy transmission of information between the two protocols, leading to end users and machine builders benefiting from total transparency between CC-Link IE and PROFINET, the two most prevalent networking protocols in Asia and Europe respectively.

Developed by CLPA and PI partner Hilscher, the unveiling of the device marks another milestone in the on-going cooperation between the two associations. The announcement of the first working coupler on the CLPA stand at SPS/IPC/Drives 2017 less than a year after the completion of the specification underlines the importance that the market ascribes to the cooperation between CLPA and PI.

CLPA-Americas Director Robert Miller comments: “The 2015 fair saw the announcement of the cooperation between CLPA and PI, and at the 2016 fair we announced the completion of the specification to enable seamless integration between the two protocols. Now we have the first operating coupler, demonstrating that CLPA and PI, working with their partners, have delivered on the promise to produce working solutions. Hence the promise of increasing transparency and offering maximum flexibility to end users and machine builders as they operate globally has been realized.”

With the new Hilscher coupler, users can effectively achieve communication between different parts of a line on separate networks, hugely increasing transparency and integration. Hilscher’s NT 151-CCIE-RE coupler transmits data bi-directionally between CC-Link IE and PROFINET, offering simple network integration. The NT 151 works as a CC-Link IE Field Intelligent Device on one side and as a PROFINET IO-Device on the other, allowing both network controllers to communicate with each other. Fundamental mechanisms include a mapping model to map data from both sides, diagnostics for coupler and networks, and a SyCon-based DTM which works as the coupler configuration tool.

Hilscher Business Development Manager Armin Pühringer comments: “The simple bridge between the two networks will dramatically reduce the engineering work that has traditionally been necessary to achieve integration across the heterogeneous network architectures that are a fact of life in numerous plants around the world.”

Pühringer adds: “Hilscher has a long relationship with CC-Link based technologies and PROFINET technologies, and going forward both of these will be essential for our business on a global scale. And by facilitating transparency and ease of integration between these two global leaders we are addressing a primary goal of the transition to Industry 4.0: allowing ever greater connectivity by providing end users with a simple method of achieving interoperability in brownfield applications. And all of this without the effort, cost and complexity of requiring communication architectures to support additional technologies or protocols.”

PI Chairman Karsten Schneider comments: “What CLPA and PI have proven here is that two competing organizations can work together for the good of our users. If you really mean what you say about Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things, then we will need to see more of this sort of collaboration. CLPA and PI are paving the way, with a level of cooperation that has not been seen before.”

Miller concludes: “The cooperation between CLPA and PI really can help many companies make their vision of Industry 4.0 a reality. The introduction of this first coupler from Hilscher gives machine builders and end users the hardware they need to achieve seamless integration. We are also in discussions with other CLPA partners, so we hope the NT 151 marks the start of the arrival of other products onto the market. The delivery of such solutions to meet end user requirements shows just how committed CLPA and PI have been to deliver tangible results from their cooperation, and how partners such as Hilscher have recognized the market opportunity this represents. They also provide ample evidence of the benefits that can be gained when supposedly competing organizations work together to address their users’ needs.”

 

Avnu Alliance Plus Partnerships Plus TSN Yields Internet of Things Advances

Avnu Alliance Plus Partnerships Plus TSN Yields Internet of Things Advances

2017 marks the year of Avnu Alliance, the consortium driving standards-based deterministic networking, making its name in the industrial Internet of Things space. I’ve caught up with news from other trips, now it’s news from SPS in Nuremberg that I missed this year.

  • Avnu Alliance and Edge Computing Consortium
  • Avnu Alliance and OPC Foundation
  • TSN Conformance Testing

Avnu Alliance and the Edge Computing Consortium

Avnu Alliance and the Edge Computing Consortium (ECC) announced a liaison agreement to partner on shared interests of advancing industrial networking and edge computing. Under the agreement, the consortia will work together with the shared goal for interoperability across the industrial control industry.

Joint activities between Avnu Alliance and the ECC will include:

  • Identifying and sharing IIoT best practices
  • Collaborating on test beds
  • Collaborating on standardization and conformance testing

“We are very excited about the cooperation between ECC and Avnu Alliance,” said Mr. Haibin Yu, Chairman of ECC. “We believe that Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) technology will enable edge computing to better meet the industrial customers end-to-end needs and promote the global industry digitization transformation.”

“Edge computing is a key enabling technology to the industrial IoT. The liaison with the Edge Computing Consortium enables Avnu to broaden the scope for creating an interoperable foundation of Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) for the industrial IoT in alignment with our organization’s goal to build coalitions within the networking space,” said Todd Walter, Avnu Alliance Industrial Segment Chair.

Avnu Alliance and ECC conducted a joint presentation at the ECC Summit in Beijing on November 29, 2017 to announce their agreement and the opportunities ahead for Edge Computing and Time Sensitive Networking.

Avnu Alliance and OPC Foundation Combined IT-OT Leadership

Avnu Alliance (Avnu), Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), and OPC Foundation announce their collaboration with IT-OT industry leaders to advance industrial device interoperability and to show the progress made in bringing the open, unified communication standard OPC UA over Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) to market.

Leading companies active in these groups have pledged their commitment to ensuring the interoperability of deterministic industrial devices and have made significant investments in achieving this goal. Rapid developments of these technologies have been made over the last year.

“With the rapid adoption of TSN as a foundational technology for automation, the community is increasingly relying on an interoperable set of network services and infrastructure. Today, 17 market leaders are reinforcing their commitment to complete a unified communication technology,” said Todd Walter, Avnu Alliance Industrial Segment Chair. “By leveraging the liaison agreements of Avnu, IIC and OPC Foundation, we’re creating a faster process for the creation of an open, interoperable ecosystem of devices that take advantage of secure, guaranteed latency and delivery for critical traffic. It is exciting to see the fruits of our labor in these milestones.”

The pillars of this announcement are:

Conformance testing advances: Avnu TSN conformance test plans for time synchronization of industrial devices are ready and available to test houses. At last month’s Avnu IIC Interoperability Workshop, more than 20 companies came together to demonstrate interoperability in the IIC TSN Testbed and to advance the conformance tests with the assistance of University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab, an Avnu-recognized test facility.

Standards evolved, more vendors, more devices: The Publish Subscribe extension for OPC UA is now available in release-candidate form, enabling the exchange of OPC UA over UDP connections. This is the prerequisite for running OPC UA TSN.

“OPC UA over TSN adds additional capability to the OPC Foundation portfolio, including enhancing controller-to-controller and machine-to-machine communication and information integration. OPC UA addresses the complex requirements of initiatives like Industrie 4.0 and the IIoT, providing information integration between devices, applications and the cloud, truly providing the foundation for the much-demanded seamless communication and information integration between IT and OT networks,” said Thomas Burke, OPC Foundation President.

Demonstrated interoperability between different vendors: Interoperability testing via the IIC TSN Testbed is rapidly progressing with eight hands-on plugfests taking place in the US and Europe over the past 18 months. More than 20 companies have participated in these face-to-face events to test and demonstrate interoperability between devices from various manufacturers and vendors – both collaborative and competitive.

“Our TSN Testbed stands as a showcase for the business value of TSN. The work coming out of the TSN Testbed is already having a direct impact on suppliers and manufacturers who see the technology as a value-add for their system structures,” said Paul Didier, IIC TSN Testbed Coordinator, Cisco Solution Architect. “Companies are invited to participate in our plugfests to test their own TSN devices for interoperability, including OPC UA Pub-Sub TSN devices.”

Avnu Alliance Delivers First TSN Conformance Tests for Industrial Devices

Avnu Alliance announced the first set of Avnu TSN conformance test plans for time synchronization of industrial devices are ready and available now for test houses to implement.

Avnu Alliance has built a rich set of conformance and interoperability tests with a defined procedure for certification in various markets. Leveraging that multi-industry experience, Avnu defined a baseline certification in the industrial market that consists of robust and comprehensive test requirements based on the market requirements for industrial automation devices and silicon. These conformance tests ensure that the device or silicon conforms to the relevant IEEE standards, as well as additional requirements that Avnu has selected as necessary for proper system interoperability.

“Time Synchronization, or 802.1AS, is the foundation for all TSN devices, hence it is the first set of conformance tests that are ready and available,” said Todd Walter, Avnu Alliance Industrial Segment Chair. As the standards and networks continue to evolve, so does Avnu’s work to define and certify the standard foundation. In the future, Avnu will also be able to test and certify other traffic shaping mechanisms, frame preemption, redundancy, ingress policing, strict priority, and security. “Our work with the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), OPC Foundation and other industry organizations drives the industry closer toward achieving an interoperable ecosystem,” added Walter.

Avnu is committed to speeding up the path to an interoperable foundation. To this end, Avnu members have made open source code available for 802.1AS timing and synchronization in the OpenAvnu repository on GitHub.

To encourage and enable multiple industry groups, vendors and protocols to share a TSN network, Avnu has outlined the system architecture and requirements for this industrial model built on an Avnu certified foundation in a document entitled “Theory of Operation for TSN-enabled Industrial Systems,” which is available for download. This document introduces the fundamental mechanisms needed for a system architecture to build on, including time synchronization, quality of service using scheduled transmission and network configuration and walks through the requirements of several industrial use cases including how to enable and integrate non-TSN technologies where needed.

Avnu Alliance members have created this document to help designers and engineers in the industry understand the real-world application context and build a TSN network that is configured for multiple vendor and industry groups. Avnu’s defined foundation will continue to support additional capabilities, including support for multiple IEEE 1588 profiles, guidelines for scaling to very large network architectures, centralized and distributed configuration for the network, and aggregation/composition of multiple networks into a single TSN-enabled network domain.

New Technology Decoupling Hardware and Software

New Technology Decoupling Hardware and Software

Looks like there are some technology changes coming that established technology suppliers won’t like. But that has been the way of the world for centuries.

One of the goals of the Open Process Automation Forum includes the idea of decoupling control hardware and software. With that in the back of my mind, this news item from one of my new favorite news sources, The Information, stood out.

Looks like the AT&T CTO is trying to do what ExxonMobil is attempting—the decoupling of hardware and software to drive down initial costs plus the costs of maintenance and upgrade. Following are excerpts from the interview of Kevin McLaughlin of The Information with AT&T CTO Andre Fuetsch. (The Information is a subscription based new media site. I don’t know if I’ve unlocked it or not.)

For big enterprise hardware companies like Cisco Systems and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, AT&T has long been a valuable customer. The telecom behemoth spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year buying devices like switches and routers that transmit data around its network. But it recently began shifting toward cheaper, less-known—or “white-box”—switches from Taiwanese manufacturers that run open-source software.

In doing so, AT&T is following the playbook of companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft, which run software they have written on no-name hardware. This trend has forced Cisco and other networking companies like Arista Networks and Juniper Networks to re-evaluate the way they package products. For instance, instead of selling switch hardware with software together, networking companies may have to consider selling just the software, which would hurt profit margins.

THE TAKEAWAY

Why is AT&T making the move to white box switches instead of those made by firms like Cisco Systems?

AT&T has always had the networking expertise and capacity to do this, but we were just using [that expertise] to pick the right suppliers. We started seeing the big margins the [original equipment manufacturers] had, and how simple it was to build these boxes, and so we decided to build our own.

This has really woken up the traditional OEMs. Now they’re saying, ‘Maybe we should be in the business of not just selling a complete black box solution, but also selling our software and our hardware decoupled from each other.’

How does this decision affect longstanding relationships with suppliers like Cisco Systems?

I’m not going to comment on any specific vendor. But in general, I think it’s a really big wake-up call, and frankly, it’s going to cause vendors to change their model.

A big part of your focus these days is on “software-defined” networking (SDN), which separates high-end networking functions from hardware so they can run on cheaper hardware. At Stanford, you studied under Professor Nick McKeown, who co-founded SDN startup Nicira. What kind of impact has SDN had on the networking industry compared to what it could be in the future?

SDN has not only made networking cheaper but also more flexible—meaning you can do more things with the network, and do them more quickly.

Now the impact is getting cheaper solutions. We’ve also seen more flexibility and cycle time improvement when we develop new services. One example is mobile call recording, an application we developed for trading firms to handle Securities and Exchange Commission requirements. When you call your stockbroker and say you want to trade a stock, that voice communication has to be recorded. Before that meant the stock broker would have to take the call on their office phone. Now they can do it on mobile phones and have the recording sent back to their office recording system.

This kind of service would previously have taken us 12 to 18 months to build. But because all the network components have been turned into software, we were able to build the service in 12 weeks.

Control and Networking Make Automation News

Control and Networking Make Automation News

Here is some news regarding control and networking. Bedrock Automation is a recent entrant into the control and automation space, while Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) holds great potential to be a disruptive force.

Control

I seldom write about automation company “wins”, but this one shows some direction for a new company. Bedrock Automation is a young automation company that has built a new control platform from the ground up for not only the latest in control but also for security.

My curiosity has focused on where it would find a market. I don’t see it displacing Rockwell Automation and Siemens any time soon, but the platform is robust and adaptable. This looks like a perfect application.

Pinnacle Midstream, a Houston-based supplier of storage and processing services for the oil and gas industry, has selected the Bedrock control system as the automation platform for its crude oil receipt and delivery points. The Bedrock system will coordinate flow of product from partners, through the Pinnacle processing facilities and onto refiners and shippers. Pinnacle chose Bedrock system for its scalability, ease of engineering, ruggedness, cost efficiencies and intrinsic cyber security.

“We are expanding to the meet the growing need for midstream services and need a secure way to centralize control of flow amongst our facilities. The Bedrock system provides an economical solution in a small, easy-to-implement system that can coordinate edge control today, while also scaling easily and economically to the full DCS functionality we expect to need in the future. We also liked the rugged Bedrock housing, which will resist the dust that gets into everything around here,” said Mike Hillerman, VP of Engineering and Operations for Pinnacle Midstream.

Networking

Avnu Alliance, the industry consortium driving open standards-based deterministic networking through certification, is co-hosting the 2017 Time Sensitive Networks and Applications (TSN/A) Conference with WEKA FACHMEDIEN on September 20-21 at the Mövenpick Hotel Stuttgart Airport in Germany.

The TSN/A Conference is a combination of the “TSNA Conference” and the “Industrial Ethernet TSN Kongress” and offers attendees insights into Time-Sensitive Networks and usage in applications for Automotive, Industrial, Professional Audio/Video and more. The conference spans two days of technical sessions, panel discussions, vendor demonstrations, and participant networking.

“We are excited to bring together experts and thought leaders from around the world to the TSN/A Conference in Germany this year” said Kevin Stanton, Avnu Alliance Chairman, who will also deliver a conference presentation on Time Synchronization on Wired and Wireless Infrastructure. “It’s been a pleasure to join forces with WEKA FACHMEDIEN as the speakers present both the technology of TSN and its implications across our industries.”

On Wednesday, September 20, the first day of the conference, programming will feature two keynotes from Avnu Alliance members. Wolfgang Schenk of Hirschmann Automation and Control will present on “Time-Sensitive Networking: Enabling Technology for the Automation Model of the Future,” analyzing the transformation of the automation pyramid towards an automation pillar and discussing why TSN is the enabling technology for this transformation. Avnu Alliance Member BMW representative Dr. Kirsten Matheus will give a keynote on the “Use of AVB and TSN in the Automotive Industry.” Specifically, the presentation will describe the results of two workshops that Avnu Alliance held to gauge the need in the automotive industry for different Audio Video Bridging (AVB)/TSN functions.

I am happy to see momentum building for the technology. Can’t wait to see applications.

Connecting Those Internet of Things End Devices

Connecting Those Internet of Things End Devices

Connecting things to the Internet, or to the Cloud, or whatever app. The Internet of Things is nothing without connection. Almost every piece of news or interview I’ve seen or had over the past month or two has dealt with Internet of Things platforms. Here is news from a company new to me dealing with getting legacy devices into the system.

Amir Haleem, CEO of Helium, explained the technology and products with me yesterday in relation to an announcement regarding launch of its latest product suite.

This product suite is a comprehensive low-power, long-range networking solution for IoT devices. The new offering streamlines the ability to prototype, deploy and scale a long-range wireless network that connects thousands of end devices, giving companies a simple way to intelligently and securely deliver data from device to the cloud and application layer.

The system consists of end devices called Atom that are wireless (802.15.4, but in star not mesh topology) that attach to legacy sensors and field devices typically via serial. These connect to Access Points which in turn aggregate and send data to the cloud.

“Connectivity is extraordinarily complicated when dealing with resource-constrained embedded devices,” added Haleem. “Helium has taken a process that normally takes months of labor-intensive work from a large team and simplified it to a process that can be achieved in minutes with minimal staff, and provides the visibility and control needed to manage at scale going forward.”

Automating device management and updates through a central dashboard
As companies continue to build and scale their IoT deployments, it becomes especially crucial that they ensure full control and management of their operations. Helium allows companies to manage and update their systems from a central console, the Helium Dashboard, eliminating the need to visit every sensor in the field, which is a common challenge of remote field monitoring. Helium Dashboard also serves as a central point for Helium Channels, the setup and integration of the cloud applications and data stores used to assess and take action on these physical data.

“Although there has been great progress made in the areas of IoT hardware and cloud software, there are still major technical and economic challenges in getting connectivity to the edge point to gather and deliver data,” said Rob Bamforth, Principal Analyst at Quocirca. “Simplifying and lowering costs of connectivity deployment would remove a significant barrier to mass IoT adoption in several industries.”

A new economic model for deploying, managing and scaling IoT networks
Helium will simplify everything that goes into purchasing, deploying and managing a long-range, low-power IoT solution, up-ending the traditional carrier-based model, which often does not provide reliable coverage where it is needed. It’s products will work out of the box with all existing sensor hardware and a wide range of IoT cloud applications with little-to-no configuration. With hardware as low as $19 per Helium Atom module, $29 per Element Access Point, and a simple $1.99 per month per installed Atom with no usage or data fees, Helium eliminates upcharges and most add-on costs. Helium’s open standards will ensure that it will support IoT hardware and software regardless of the IoT technology companies are using today or in the future.

Key features include:
• Zero configuration for simple installation and setup at scale
• Compatibility across hundreds of hardware providers
• Extremely long range connectivity, on the order of many city-blocks in dense urban applications and hundreds of square miles in sparse rural settings
• IEEE standards-based hardware provides maximum flexibility for changing business demands with no proprietary lock-in.
• Hardware-based security to ensure data is encrypted and devices authenticated, end to end
• Over-the-air updating and bi-directional communication to provide future-proofing, up-to-date software and further protection from security risks
• Helium Channels provide interoperability with all major cloud solution providers such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS IoT, and Google Cloud Platform IoT Core
• Full visibility and management enabled by Helium Dashboard

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