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It was an unusual sight: At the 2018 SPS IPC Drives, representatives of all the major automation companies crowded the stage in the event center of the Nuremberg trade fair. Together, they made an announcement that will have a major impact on machine builders and operators: OPC UA over TSN will be the uniform standard for communication in the Industrial IoT.

At the 2018 SPS IPC Drives, representatives of all the major automation companies announced that they would be using OPC UA over TSN as the uniform standard for communication in the Industrial IoT. Image source: OPC Foundation

The commitment to a common standard heralds a new era. An era in which machine builders and operators are no longer forced to struggle with a hodge-podge of communication protocols. Gone are the days when OEMs had to offer an array of machine variants to satisfy varying requirements for the control and bus systems.

A standard for the IoT

"A few years ago, it was becoming apparent that the Industrial Ethernet protocols were reaching their limits," explains Stefan Schönegger, vice president of strategy and innovations at B&R. In addition to bandwidth and cycle times, the requirements of the Industrial IoT have been the main driver of demand for a new technology. "We began thinking about what the next step in the evolution of industrial communication might look like," says Schönegger. "We spoke with our customers about their requirements, and it quickly became clear that, aside from the technical issues, there was also another major pain point: the heterogeneity of the protocols and the lack of a globally accepted standard."

"So, in September of 2016, B&R and network specialist TTTech invited interested automation and IT companies to talk about the establishment of such a standard based on OPC UA and the Ethernet extension TSN," recalls Schönegger. It was at this meeting that the OPC UA TSN initiative was founded. Its members would later become known as the "Shapers".

"The industry has faith in OPC UA over TSN as a common standard and wants to actively shape the technology."Stefan Schönegger, Product Strategy & Innovation, B&R

Seamless connectivity

The group's vision was to achieve open, interface-free communication from the sensor to the cloud – including the real-time capabilities needed for highly synchronized motion control. The goal was to offer increase performance by a factor of 18 compared to existing technologies.

From that point on, the Shapers grew steadily in number as they hashed out the technical details. "By 2018, many of the biggest names in automation technology had joined our initiative," reports Schönegger. "The industry has faith in OPC UA over TSN as a common standard and wants to actively shape the technology."

The Shapers first unveiled their plans for a unified communication standard based on OPC UA and TSN at he 2016 SPS IPC Drives exhibition.

The role of the OPC Foundation

"As a group, the Shapers were just a loose coalition," notes Schönegger. "To set things up for the future, we wanted a more permanent home for OPC UA over TSN, and we finally found it in the OPC Foundation." To this end, a dedicated steering committee consisting of 22 industry heavyweights was set up within the organization for the new technology. In addition, three global players in automation were added to the board of the OPC Foundation: Schneider Electric, Rockwell and B&R's parent company ABB.

The first products

The fundamental specifications for OPC UA's publish-subscribe mechanism and the essential sub-standards for TSN have since been completed. These include IEEE802.1AS for time synchronization and IEEE802.1qbv for the guaranteed transmission times for data on the network. "Our efforts are now already focused on equipping our entire portfolio for OPC UA over TSN," explains Schönegger. A B&R bus controller with OPC UA over TSN is set to go into production, and controllers and drives will follow.

"In a few years' time, you won't find a new machine without OPC UA over TSN," Schönegger is confident. As the barriers of the heterogeneous protocol landscape fall, machine builders and operators will have a much easier time implementing connected manufacturing systems and Industrial IoT solutions. Schönegger expects the transition phase to go smoothly. "Companion specifications such as those between POWERLINK and OPC UA," he notes, "make it easy to integrate existing machines and systems into new networks."

B&R presented the first bus controller with OPC UA over TSN at the 2018 SPS IPC Drives exhibition.

Author: Stefan Hensel, Corporate Communications Editor, B&R

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