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.”

Infrastructure-as-a-Service Simplifies and Accelerates Network Deployments

Infrastructure-as-a-Service Simplifies and Accelerates Network Deployments

Infrastructure-as-a-Service. Remember several years ago when Amazon started selling space and time on its servers? And people thought they were crazy. Is this a business?

Well, as the old vaudeville comedian and TV pioneer Jimmy Durante used to say, “Everybody wants to get into the act.”

We have lots of “–as-a-service” things going on over the past 15 years or so. Software, Application, Platform. Here Rockwell Automation leverages its partnerships with Cisco, Panduit, and Microsoft (who has its own Infrastructure-as-a-Service) to offer an extension to its longtime strategy of using Ethernet as a networking backbone to its Connected Enterprise vision.

Designing, deploying and maintaining this infrastructure can be complex and time consuming for many companies, and is often too costly for their capital budgets. Rockwell Automation has introduced its Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offering to address these challenges.

Rockwell’s IaaS reduces the burden of network deployments by combining pre-engineered network solutions, on-site configuration and 24/7 remote monitoring into a single five-year contract. The result is simplified ordering and commissioning upfront, and can help improve network reliability long term. The service can also ease budgetary strains by shifting networking costs from a capital expense to an operating expense.

Rockwell’s Solution

All aspects of IaaS are aligned to the Converged Plantwide Ethernet (CPwE) reference architectures developed by Rockwell Automation and Cisco. Leveraging best-in-class technologies and architectures, companies can optimize their network infrastructure’s performance, efficiency and uptime, as well as address security risks.

“Companies of all sizes are eager to digitally transform their operations in a Connected Enterprise, but many are limited in their ability to connect their infrastructure,” said Sherman Joshua, connected services portfolio manager, Rockwell Automation. “Often, a combination of time, talent and budgetary constraints hold them back. IaaS helps relieve these pressures by combining turnkey networking solutions with our highest level of support.”

IaaS is offered with two Rockwell Automation pre-engineered network solutions, including the Industrial Data Center (IDC) and the Industrial Network Distribution Solution (INDS). These solutions are designed for industrial use and incorporate industry-leading technologies from Rockwell Automation Strategic Alliance partners Cisco, Panduit and Microsoft.

The IDC provides all the hardware and software needed to transition to a virtualized environment, and is designed to deliver high availability and fault tolerance. The INDS is a network distribution package that helps end users achieve secure, high-capacity connectivity between the control room and throughout the plant floor.

Under an IaaS contract, Rockwell Automation will size, assemble and test the infrastructure, including configuration and on-site deployment at the customer’s facility. Contracts include 24/7 remote monitoring of critical system parameters to help prevent outages and failures, as well as proactive system maintenance and checks to improve reliability. Support response is guaranteed within 10 minutes, but actual response times average three minutes.

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.


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.


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.


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


Follow this blog

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.