How PROFINET overcomes network issues in the factory

How PROFINET overcomes network issues in the factory
Harsh conditions and little leeway for downtime make factory connectivity a more complex proposition than enterprise networking. One solution that can help to overcome these hurdles is the PROFINET protocol.
 
There are several networking protocols used in factory settings outside of PROFINET, including PROFIBUS, EtherNet/IP and EtherCAT. But according to Fanny Lin, Product Manager at Siemens, PROFINET’s ability to integrate with various hardware interfaces, in addition to its multiple communication channels, make it a good choice.
 
Industrial operations are inherently time-based, which means processes and procedures occur in a predefined linear sequence. As such, factories have little tolerance for connectivity problems that may lead to downtime.
 
PROFINET was developed based on Ethernet and uses three communication channels: standard TCP/IP, Real Time (RT) and Isochronous Real Time (IRT). The latter two functioned like “shoulder lanes on a highway,” Lin said, ensuring there were alternative routes so that data flows and manufacturing processes were not interrupted.

 
Fanny Lin,
Product Manager,
Siemens
Another advantage of PROFINET is its ability to integrate with various hardware interfaces on the manufacturing floor. Industrial equipment and systems from different venders are often proprietary and do not allow for centralized management or maintenance.
 
“There are many different interfaces for sensors and other equipment on the floor, and PROFINET helps to link them all together. The integration makes everything less complicated and now that all devices on the floor can communicate with one another, things become more transparent, efficient and flexible,” Lin said.
 
Addressing the issue of incompatibility, Henry Martel, Sr. Product Marketing Engineer at industrial networking solution provider Antaira, said “true solutions for robust connectivity will be determined largely by the hardware being used for connectivity.”
 
“Take industrial networking switches for example, different manufacturers support different types of M8/M12 connecters as well as different types of networking protocols that are incompatible with each other,” he said.
 
Through PROFINET, operators may also take advantage of energy management, control and monitoring. Lin gives the example of a running motor that fluctuates in power generation, consuming different levels of energy at different times. With PROFINET, operators can check when the motor’s energy usage is higher and make adjustment accordingly. Normally a motor will accelerate and decelerate, but after making the adjustment the excessive power can be put back into use.
 
Markus Weinlaender, Head of Product Management for SIMATIC Communication Modules at Siemens, said PROFINET not only had “robust communication features” but also improved other aspects like engineering and diagnostics.

Connecting with enterprise networks 

In the manufacturing sector, there has been a move toward the integration of industrial and enterprise networks. “The improvements taking place today are to drive towards network convergence so data can flow seamlessly from the factory floor to the front office,” said Tom Weingartner, Director of Marketing, Industrial Ethernet Solutions at Analog Devices.
 
PROFINET can help in this regard. PROFINET networks are easily integrated with existing Ethernet networks, such as higher-level enterprise systems, including manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. It is possible for PROFINET to reach across the enterprise under self-defined security and management strategies, according to Lin.
 
PROFINET can even deliver full internet connectivity, enabling enterprises to operate more efficiently across the globe. “With PROFINET, production data can be made available to supervisory staff in real time from almost anywhere in the enterprise,” Lin said. This could provide better management of factory assets and lead to improved production scheduling and order processing. Looking forward, Lin believes 5G technology will improve the speed of PROFINET, further enhancing factory efficiency.
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