Is TSN Activity Igniting Another Fieldbus WAR? |

Is TSN Activity Igniting Another Fieldbus WAR?

Is TSN Activity Igniting Another Fieldbus WAR?

By Bill Lydon, Editor,

Much like the Fieldbus wars that marked the industrial automation industry of the 1990’s, there are early-warning signs of competing standards developing in TSN activity that could ignite a similar wave of chaos. This chaos could set the stage in the dynamic new IT/OT integration environment for the enterprise computer and IoT industry to set standards for the industrial automation community, which may well become mainstream.  While some traditional industrial automation suppliers seem to be jockeying for position amongst themselves, there has also been a flood of investment and venture capital flowing into industry newcomers, innovative companies that have their sights on industrial and process automation as part of a broad IoT strategy.   Even now, enterprise software is taking over a variety of production functions, stopping just short of the real-time controllers. In this dynamic new environment, the industrial automation industry does not yet have any standard open source industrial and process automation fieldbus networks.   Instead, we’re seeing primary efforts fall into two categories:

  • Closed Networks - Major DCS suppliers have ethernet networks running proprietary closed protocols.
  • Gated Ecosystems - Membership based organizations that license and promote their unique industrial ethernet protocols including unique configuration data formats. These are not open source.

To avoid repeating the Fieldbus scenario, the industry needs to get beyond these self-serving efforts and agree on published open source protocols, configuration standards, and data messaging to the benefit of all.


The Red Flags for TSN at HANNOVER MESSE 2018

One of the red flags for this danger presented itself at the Hannover Messe 2018. There, multiple groups were independently working on the applications of Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN). These efforts included the OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) namely the “Shapers”, and Huawei inspired Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) + OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA)” Smart Manufacturing. I had an opportunity to look at each effort in depth.


Inside “The Shapers” – A Non-Organization Coalition of Competitors

The self-named, “Shapers” are a non-organization coalition of competitors, who are discussing standardization around OPC UA. Yet they are doing so without being part of a formal legal industry association for this effort, which is very strange.  It would seem that rather than creating some other group, this effort could logically be part of the existing organizations, including OPC Foundation TSN SIG and IEEE Time-Sensitive Networking Task Group.

It is also significant that Rockwell Automation is no longer a member of the OPC Foundation at time this article was written.   In the past Rockwell Automation was an active participant in OPC Foundation working groups.

“The Shapers” – A Non-Organization Coalition of Competitors

Rockwell Automation broke news at Hannover Messe that they were joining the industry effort on OPC UA Time-Sensitive Networking. Discussing this with Rockwell Automation’s Paul Brooks, a Business Development Manager at Rockwell Automation, I was informed that there is no formal organization or legal entity for Rockwell Automation, ABB, Belden, Bosch Rexroth, B&R , CISCO, Hilscher, KUKA, National Instruments, Parker Hannifin, Phoenix Contact, Pilz, Schneider Electric, TTTech, and WAGO, the entities calling themselves the“Shapers”.  Brooks was kind enough to answer several of my follow-up questions:


Is there a Memo of Understanding between these companies?

Paul Brooks: “This group of companies desires a suitable organizational framework which will allow all interested companies to join. The group intends to communicate this framework in a major mid-year announcement.”

Are any other companies welcome to join the discussion? If so, what are the criteria for other companies to participate in the “Shapers” dialog?

Brooks: “We welcome participation from any company who shares our common and publicly stated goal, which is to aim for an open, unified, standards-based and open IIoT communications solution between sensors, actuators, controllers and the cloud, addressing all requirements of industrial automation.”

How can another company become part of this dialog?

Brooks: Any interested company should contact either Paul Brooks of Rockwell Automation or Sebastian Sachse of B&R.

Brooks: “Today, Rockwell Automation is engaged with all of the listed bodies (AVNU, IEEE, IIC, LNI 4.0, and OPC Foundation) at varying levels, from event participation through individual membership and up to board seats.”  Note: Rockwell Automation may still have been an OPC Foundation member at the time Brooks gave this answer.


Inside the Huawei-Inspired TSN + OPC UA Testbed for Smart Manufacturing

In contrast to the Shapers movement, also at Hannover Messe 2018 Huawei announced their multi-organization effort for a TSN + OPC UA Testbed for Smart Manufacturing. At this point, they appear to be working with established industry organizations to apply this standard, rather than creating another organization.

The industry leaders behind TSN + OPC UA Testbed for Smart Manufacturing

Their announcement revealed more than 20 international organizations and industry vendors, who are participating in the Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) + OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) smart manufacturing testbed, which covers six major industrial Internet scenarios. The stakeholders engaged in the testbed include the Alliance of Industrial Internet (AII), Avnu Alliance, Edge Computing Consortium (ECC), Fraunhofer FOKUS, Huawei, Schneider Electric, HollySys,  National Instruments Corporation (NI), B&R Automation,  TTTech, and Spirent Communications.

Launched at Hannover, the testbed complies with the OPC UA standards, ensuring that multiple devices from different vendors can collaborate with each other in a single system. The TSN testbed integrates Software-Defined Networking (SDN) technology to prioritize traffic based on precise timing and transmit both real-time and non-real-time data over a single network. This effort is designed to enable connectivity and interoperability for machines, people, and things across the entire network and bridge the so-called ‘last mile for the industrial Internet’.

The six industrial Internet scenarios for the smart manufacturing testbed include:

  • TSN for Predictive Maintenance (by Huawei and AII)
  • Motor Synchronization (by Huawei and NI)
  • Racing-Car Game (by Huawei and HollySys)
  • Plotter Motion Control (by Huawei and Linmot)
  • LED synchronization (by Huawei and Schneider Electric)
  • OPC UA over TSN (by Huawei and B&R Automation)

This testbed is designed to verify the deterministic and low-latency nature of the TSN network in complex environments, and ensure synchronous motion control in industrial scenarios. Spirent Communication’s test devices were used to generate TSN and non-TSN traffic, to demonstrate possibilities brought by new industrial network architecture and services.

“Since the introduction of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) in the 1970s, industrial automation processes have been optimized significantly,” stated Dr. Alexander Willner from Fraunhofer FOKUS. “The convergence of these operational technologies and modern information and communication technologies will fuel interesting and exciting innovations across the whole value chain. With OPC UA and TSN, we have two promising building blocks towards interoperable real-time information exchange in industrial domains. The scenarios demonstrated in our joint testbed showcase our respective technological advancements as we look to the future of digital networking.”


Bill’s Thoughts & Observations

Today, we are seeing IoT developments progress at a significantly faster pace than industrial automation and these developments could easily set de facto standards, displacing industrial protocols.  While industrial automation systems were totally proprietary in the early days, out of necessity, as time went by (and after much resistance) vendors adopted open standards that included Windows operating systems, off-the-shelf virtualization, ethernet, wireless ethernet, MQTT, Bluetooth, and more recently Linux.

The distinction between industrial automation systems and business systems has continued to narrow with the advent of enterprise systems which process real time transactions.  Couple this with the explosion of well-funded IoT technologies which are opening up a world of applications with open computing, many of which are equally as demanding as any found in industrial automation. I see this as indicative that significant changes in the industry may be on the horizon.

Existing automation suppliers seem confused about what value they bring to customers. Some appear to believe that controlling network protocols, configuration standards, and data messaging within gated ecosystems as their main value. This seems like a false, self-serving belief, I believe that the incumbent automation suppliers major value is in their development of the key elements of systems for overall industrial production, including application software/firmware, reliable field hardware, and solid customer service.   

Closed systems are simply not customer responsive, and today’s users are now working to promote open systems as characterized by The Open Process Automation Forum and Namur Industry 4.0 for process initiatives. Will the traditional automation suppliers stay on the same page?

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