SPE Pioneer Summit 2020: Revolutionizing Industrial Automation at the Edge

SPE Pioneer Summit 2020: Revolutionizing Industrial Automation at the Edge
SPE Pioneer Summit 2020: Revolutionizing Industrial Automation at the Edge

Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) and Advanced Physical Layer (APL) are building blocks for a dramatically new manufacturing and process automation digitalization architecture and the 2020 SPE Pioneer Summit, held virtually last month, provided essential information and insights into the technology and the development  partners involved.

SPE delivers standard unmodified Ethernet built on the IP (Internet Protocol) to enable intelligent field devices including sensors, motor controls, and actuators to achieve industrial digitalization and accomplish the vision of Industry 4.0.

The SPE Pioneer Summit is designed  as an ongoing, digital event with new presentations and discussions held regularly. Session are available on demand here.


The basics 

Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) Ethernet network technology specification under the IEEE 802.3cg is focused on automotive and industrial applications. Use of the technology lowers cost, weight, cable diameter, and connector size when using the Internet Protocol (IP) with traditional CAT 5 cabling. SPE has the following benefits:  

  • A seamless communications method for established Industrial Ethernet Protocols including PROFINET, Ethernet/IP, EtherCAT, HART-IP; MODBUS TCP/IP. 

  • Easier and lower cost installation with over 75% smaller cable diameter, reduced weight, cost, and 30% more bend radius than CAT 5. 

  • Potential to reuse existing installed twisted pair field wiring to carry SPE communications simplifying plant and machine retrofits. 

  • Power over Data Line (PoDL) option with up to 50 watts. 

  • SPE Multidrop option with auto negotiation at 10<bits/s, Power over Data Line (PoDL), 16 devices and 50-meter length. This is planned for release in January 2023. 

SPE also is the basis for the Advanced Physical Layer (APL) being developed to bring Ethernet to field-level instruments in hazardous areas. The final APL specification is expected in mid-2021 with many devices being demonstrated at the Achema Show June 14-18, 2021, in Frankfurt, Germany

Lending support to SPE, seven industrial technology companies joined forces to advance the technology as well as to support related standards for transmission protocols, cabling and device components. The SPE Industrial Partner Network founding members include HARTING, TE Connectivity, HIROSE, Würth Electronics, LEONI, MURR Elektronik and Softing. Members of the partner program, as well as the ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 25/WG 3, are in close cooperation with IEEE 802.3 and IEC SC46C for uniform transmission standards and copper data cables.


Intelligent field devices

SPE and APL help achieve the goal that all field devices will have embedded information, including the ability for a device to self-describe over the network its role in applications, its operating properties, and its asset management properties. This increases system integrity, yielding higher reliability, availability, and lower maintenance costs. Today, these data points and relationships must be programmed into industrial automation middleware such as HMI servers, historians, and asset management systems and manually maintained.  HART, which is an open protocol, provides the richest information set from sensors.

Using SPE and APL over IP is an ideal solution for edge devices because it enables the embedding of processors inside of sensors and other end field devices to create much smarter and holistic systems. The Industry 4.0 initiative describes this as part of the vision for dramatic improvements in manufacturing using modern smart technology. Large-scale machine-to-machine (M2M) and the Internet of Things (IoT) communication are integrated for increased automation, improved communication and self-monitoring, and production of smart machines that can analyze and diagnose issues without the need for human intervention.


NAMUR Open Architecture NE 175

SPE and APL coupled with NAMUR Open Architecture NE 175 and OPC UA Field Level Communications specifications are defining the most effective industrial and process manufacturing automation-digitalization architecture. The combination is changing sensors and other end field devices into intelligent control and data sources built on open data and use-case models. This is what is required to create the most effective manufacturing organization for efficiency, productivity, sustainability and profits.

The NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) aims to make production data easily and securely usable for plant and asset monitoring as well as optimization. Smart sensors, field devices, mobile devices and the ubiquitous use of IT equipment are generating more and more data that is often difficult to access within the classic automation pyramid. NOA will change this by enabling field instruments to transmit this data over a second communication channel without affecting the widely accepted advantages of traditional automation structures—and with no impact on the automation system. NOA is therefore suitable for existing systems (brownfield plants).

In addition, NOA is compatible with current developments in automation such as the Advanced Physical Layer (APL) or the Module Type Package (MTP). By opening the automation pyramid and unlocking more data, NOA will enable a wide range of use cases, demonstrating the great potential of the new concept. NAMUR is focusing on industry-wide collaboration to develop NOA and notably this includes OPC UA and OPC UA FLC. More information can be found online.


OPC Field Level Communications

The OPC Foundation OPC UA is an industrial, protocol-agnostic framework for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 that contains mechanisms for secure and reliable manufacturer- and platform-independent information exchange, as well as for semantic information modeling and device self-description. OPC UA scales from the sensor across all levels including business enterprise, logistics, MES, ERP and cloud applications.  The OPC Foundation established the Field Level Communications (FLC) initiative supported by an impressive list of major automation suppliers to specify and standardize the semantics, protocol, and physical interface of controllers and field devices.

To generalize from the specific and diverse application scenarios in the broad field of process and factory automation applications, FLC is using an abstract interaction model with the various “abstract” OPC UA use cases.  There is wide collaboration among industry standards groups including industrial network organizations, NAMUR, IEC, OMAC, MT Connect, PLCopen, and AutomationML.


Final thoughts 

The scope of digitalization encompasses the entire manufacturing process and open IP communication to the edge including final sensing and control devices is fundamental for manufacturing digital transformation.

Industrial & process automation system architectures are being redefined, leveraging computer, IoT system concepts and embedded processor technologies to achieve integrated manufacturing for higher productivity and profits.

The integration of Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT) and, more importantly, elimination of organizational silos within manufacturing companies is creating more effective and efficient organizations.

It is the people in manufacturing companies, who embrace holistic digitalization throughout the organization, who will create new opportunities that drive winning organizations.

The SPE PIONEER SUMMIT is an ongoing, digital event. Get access to all previous sessions and information on  upcoming talks at any time by visiting the website.

About The Author


Lydon brings more than 10 years of writing and editing expertise to Automation.com, plus more than 25 years of experience designing and applying technology in the automation and controls industry. Lydon started his career as a designer of computer-based machine tool controls; in other positions, he applied programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and process control technology. In addition to working at various large companies (e.g., Sundstrand, Johnson Controls, and WAGO), Lydon served a two-year stint as part of a five-person task group, where he designed controls, automation systems, and software for chiller and boiler plant optimization. He was also a product manager for a multimillion-dollar controls and automation product line and president of an industrial control software company. 

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