Setting up robust networking in smart factories

Setting up robust networking in smart factories
For smart factories looking to leverage the advances of “Industry 4.0,” establishing robust connectivity between controllers, like programmable logic controllers (PLC), and end-devices, such as RFID readers and process instruments, becomes critical.
 
An ideal networking solution should provide fast and precise communication with devices on the factory floor. Achieving this, however, is not without its challenges.
 
Tom Weingartner, Director of Marketing for Industrial Ethernet Solutions at Analog Devices, said perhaps the biggest hurdle was the migration of brownfield devices to newer technologies that allowed for convergence, scalable data rates and secure connections. Preventing hacking, as well as connecting real-time operational data with non-real-time informational data, also posed a serious challenge.
 
Ultimately, managers had to recognize the value of data and the importance of security before developing plans to upgrade brownfield devices, Weingartner concluded.

 
Henry Martel,
Sr. Product Marketing Engineer,
 Antaira Technologies
Henry Martel, Sr. Product Marketing Engineer at industrial networking solutions provider Antaira Technologies, said the disconnect between factory and enterprise was the most commonly seen problem when setting up robust real-time connections.
 
“In many cases, engineers – who understand the hazards of their plant – have issues with the networking aspect and device configurations. In other cases, you have enterprise admins entering industrial networking who can configure core devices but don’t fully understand the function of the plant floor."
 
As a result, industrial hardware that is not properly set up could experience compatibility, latency and downtime issues, which could lead to loss of production, he added. 

How time sensitive networking will help

Weingartner believes Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) will solve many of the aforementioned challenges. TSN is a new set of standards under development by the IEEE 802.1 Working Group, which defines mechanisms for the time-sensitive transmission of data over Ethernet networks.
 
“TSN allows noncritical data to traverse the network without interfering with critical, real-time data for factory operation. This means data that needs to traverse the network to the front office for analysis can do so without interfering with data that is being used to control a bottle-filling machine or palletizer,” Weingartner said.
Tom Weingartner,
Director of Marketing,
Industrial Ethernet Solutions,
Analog Devices
 

TSN also offers some network security, helping to combat denial-of-service attacks by providing a robust set of traffic policing choices. This, however, does not help when it comes data authentication or tampering. Consequently, “this means a layered approach to security is required that allows real-time data to be processed without interference,” Weingartner said.
 
Markus Weinlaender, Head of Product Management for SIMATIC Communication Modules at Siemens, agrees that uninterrupted data flows are important. He said TSN could help, adding that “the major task for the next years is the convergence of automation and IIoT (industrial internet of things) applications and data.”
 
“Some existing architectural models suggest a second network for the IIoT application in order to make sure that the ‘hot’ automation will not be harmed. Our approach here is to lever the new TSN technology also on the shop floor. It will enable fast networks with differentiated but guaranteed quality-of-service levels, so both automation and IIoT applications will share the same network.”
 
Weingartner tips TSN to be the protocol of the future. “Current industrial protocols will migrate to TSN in order to remove ‘data islands’ that are setup by incompatible technologies and allow data to flow anywhere.”
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