Changing the Game: TSN in Industrial Networking

By Thomas Burke

Global Strategic Advisor

CC-Link Partner Association

March 29, 2023


Changing the Game: TSN in Industrial Networking

Manufacturers are looking to automation vendors to deliver systems and technologies that will help them create Connected Industries, Smart Factories, and integration with Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).  Automation vendors are looking to technology providers to have access to the latest in technology, deliver greater performance and reliability, and reduce costs and complexity. That is where Ethernet, with TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) comes in.

Let’s discuss the challenges first.

To achieve a global smart factory, the key areas to consider are:

  1. Develop a consistent quality and performance across global operations
  2. Balance manufacturing with demand to optimize material usage and asset utilization
  3. Meet regulatory compliance
  4. Implement more flexible and agile manufacturing operations
  5. Manage metrics for on-time delivery through reduced mean-time-to-repair (MTTR) and increased overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)
  6. Reduce the cost of design, deployment, and support of manufacturing and information technology (IT) systems at global manufacturing plants
  7. Improve response to events that occur on the plant floor, regardless of their location

Removing Islands of Automation

A major obstacle that has previously hindered progress was limitations imposed by existing industrial network systems. Their inability to share information between different control and business systems. This led to data ‘islands,’ which prevented information from being shared effectively. Manufacturers of industrial automation control systems and their customers understand the value of the data produced in their factories and therefore require seamless access to that data to make smarter decisions to run their factory in the IIoT and Industry 4.0.

Transparency is required by Industry 4.0 applications. Taking terabytes of data from the shop floor and turning them into useful information is all part of the strategy. But more importantly it is being able to solve customers’ problems with a complete solution-based architecture focused on IT/OT convergence.

The Role of Compatibility

Standardized protocols are improving the movement of data around IT and OT networks. But there is a class of communications that are required for deterministic performance that have forced islands of automation and associated data. To solve this problem, we need the ability to support for real-time communications, and best effort communications, on the same wire. Ethernet, with new Time-sensitive networking (TSN) is available to deliver the benefits of converged networks. Companies implementing factory automation projects should ideally look for the latest versions of open network technologies that will address their current needs, and leave room for growth in the future. For Ethernet, that means addressing the demands of Industry 4.0 with gigabit bandwidth, while also leveraging the new specifications, and products that are compatible with TSN.

The importance of TSN technology is reflected by the way that many standards bodies and industrial Ethernet organizations have quickly taken positions on incorporating it into their respective portfolios. Their work provides a solid foundation for data and information integration between all the complexes, disparate devices, and applications that have previously been disconnected.

Connecting disparate technologies and making things work from a seamless interoperable standpoint is required for end users to successfully build complete automation systems. Standardization allows these end users to design and deploy complete systems using products from a range of vendors.

TSN can provide many opportunities for convergence and interoperability. It can enable devices and applications, previously isolated to separate communications, to become part of a cohesive system. Different industrial Ethernet protocols can co-exist on the same network.

The Value of Standards in Automation

Various open industrial Ethernet associations, in addition to the OPC Foundation and CLPA (CC-Link Partner Association), have been working on adding TSN compatibility to their portfolios. The IEEE 802.1 group includes over 30 different standards, some of which may not apply to industrial use cases. It is clear that some agreement is required regarding which ones should be used for automation. To address this, the IEC and IEEE are working together in order to define a standard set of profiles for TSN in automation, based on an extensive set of use cases. This is known generically as IEC/IEEE 60802. However, many automation use cases are covered by the core IEEE 802.1AS and Qbv standards, which address time synchronization and prioritization, as we have already seen.

Vendors have already introduced products that incorporate these standards. Moreover, the IEC and IEEE have a track record of backwards compatibility. Hence any future standards will likely “grandfather” in any previous standards. The IEC/IEEE 60802 project is also planning to address the issue of TSN conformance testing. One open network organization is already offering this today and it is likely that these activities will be combined with future, wider-reaching programs that will also include other organizations. A new collaboration for testing and conformance has been created for ensuring the co-existence of various protocols with TSN on the same network. That collaboration can be found at

Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN)

So, what does a company convinced of the benefits of TSN and wanting to adopt it do now? The answer is to look for a technology that supports TSN currently while providing the necessary application functionality, such as safety and motion control. It’s been almost several years since CLPA introduced CC-Link IE TSN, which involved using the established open industrial Ethernet solution of CC-Link IE and adding TSN compatibility to it. What resulted? The world’s first open industrial Ethernet technology to combine gigabit bandwidth with TSN. As such, CC-Link IE TSN clearly provides the gateway to the future of open industrial Ethernet. End users, machine builders, and vendors now can adopt a proven technology in their respective products and projects. The ecosystem of development options that are available to vendors who want to offer CC-Link IE TSN certified products is broad and flexible.

Complete solutions from leading vendors such as Mitsubishi Electric are already available. For device vendors, developing CC-Link IE TSN compatible products now will shape the future of automation. CC-Link IE TSN helps to deliver the promise of Industry 4.0 in three key ways:

  • Performance: The only open industrial Ethernet currently available to combine gigabit bandwidth with TSN to provide the highest productivity via maximum bandwidth availability.
  • Connectivity: Being an open technology maximizes the freedom of choice for end users and machine builders, while also providing implementation flexibility for vendors. TSN takes openness one step further by offering the ability to combine CC-Link IE TSN traffic with that of other protocols.
  • Intelligence: Reduce engineering time and maximize uptime with a range of features intended to simplify system design and maintenance.

We Are in a New Era of Interoperability

What does this all mean to the end user, machine builder, or vendor who is still wondering what to do with TSN? Great minds and great innovators have recognized the value of this technology and continue to work with the IEEE to develop and enhance it. More importantly, vendors and standards organizations are adopting and pushing the TSN technology into their own standards and portfolios.

End-users want choice, but at the same time, from a business value perspective, they expect that all of their networks and devices should coexist and be able to work together. This will allow data from all of these previously disconnected devices to be converted into useful information to provide a complete cohesive solution for industrial automation for today and tomorrow by leveraging TSN. In summary, the risk is not in adopting TSN now, but rather in waiting several more years to implement it while possibly watching competitors move ahead in the meantime.

TSN is the most significant technology for the future of industrial automation. It offers a number of opportunities, with the key ones being determinism and hence complete industrial and commercial network convergence. Network convergence is a key component addressing the challenge of greater transparency identified by Industry 4.0, allowing processes and manufacturing to be highly efficient, streamlined operations.

The Evolution to TSN-enabled Systems

For current industrial automation projects, organizations need to investigate which technologies will address this challenge. Existing technologies that offer features, such as gigabit Ethernet, help with this. And of course, they should also be open network. At the same time, it is important to keep an eye on the future. This means identifying current technologies that will support TSN. These are important, as they provide an upgrade path to TSN-enabled systems of the future.

The technology landscape surrounding TSN is continuing to evolve, with the activities from the IEEE and IEC resulting in new advancements. However, based on previous experience, there is a high degree of confidence that the TSN solutions that will be installed now will also work with the systems of tomorrow. Ethernet has been around for about 40 years and has continuously evolved over that time, which is why it is still in use today.  Therefore, companies should not be afraid of implementing TSN now. As we have already seen, adoption now will deliver a competitive advantage and you’ll avoid the risk of delaying and possibly watching competitors who take advantage of current solutions move ahead. Groundbreaking technologies like TSN are going to continue to evolve to meet current needs while helping to shape the next industrial revolution.

In Conclusion

Machine builders and end users today depend on TSN technology to connect their legacy systems with the systems of today and, at the same time, address the complex needs of tomorrow. TSN literally provides timeless durability. Hence it is important that vendors, machine builders, and end users invest in TSN technology now, because as it evolves, they will be able to stay ahead of the curve and be able to take advantage of seamless new functionality that TSN brings to the table. It can benefit development roadmaps, simplify machine designs, and improve manufacturing operations.

Thomas J. Burke is Global Strategic Advisor for the CC Link Partner Association (CLPA). Tom also serves as Global Director of Industry Standards for Mitsubishi Electric to lead the strategic development and adoption of networking standards, including the adoption of Mitsubishi Electric’s open networks solutions. Tom is also the Global Directory of Industry Partnerships for ICONICS, providing leadership to increase market share of ICONICS’ leading-edge product portfolio.

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