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OPC UA over TSN – From a shared vision to a global standard

The rise of an open communication solution for industrial automation brings an end to the complexity of interfaces in mixed-protocol networks. No longer do OEMs have to design and build multiple variants of their machines with different control and bus systems.

The limitations of proprietary Industrial Ethernet protocols are becoming increasingly evident. Beyond the issues of bandwidth and cycle times, the requirements of the Industrial IoT have been the main driver of demand for a new technology. Substantial additional challenges are presented by heterogeneous networks and the absence of a unified global standard have presented substantial additional challenges. OPC UA over TSN will replace the multitude of disparate proprietary systems with a single solution for seamless connectivity. Development will become substantially easier.

A standard for the IoT

In September of 2016, B&R and network specialist TTTech took the initiative: Together with a group of other automation suppliers and IT companies, they began development of a unified global standard. The result was the OPC UA TSN initiative, whose members would later become known as the "Shapers".

This marked the birth of a 100% open standard based on OPC UA and the TSN Ethernet expansion – and the beginning of a new era in which machine builders and operators are no longer forced to struggle with the parallel existence of many different communication protocols.

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

Seamless connectivity

The vision was to achieve open, interface-free communication from the sensor to the cloud, including the real-time capabilities needed for tightly synchronized motion control. Another main goal was to increase performance by a factor of 18 compared to existing technologies – a feat that was demonstrated by prototypes as early as 2017. As a unified communication standard, OPC UA over TSN delivers 18 times more performance than conventional solutions.

As it developed the technical details, the Shapers group continued to grow. Over the course of 2018, numerous leading automation manufacturers joined the initiative, committing to OPC UA over TSN as a common standard.

At the 2018 SPS IPC Drives exhibition, 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 role of the OPC Foundation

In November of 2018, the OPC Foundation declared its entry into field-level applications with OPC UA over TSN. A dedicated steering committee consisting of 24 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. The first functional devices with OPC UA over TSN were presented at the 2018 SPS IPC Drives exhibition. In 2019, B&R was among the first manufacturers to launch a comprehensive portfolio for communication using the open, real-time capable communication solution. B&R's portfolio includes X20 PLCs, bus controllers, industrial PCs, panel PCs and a TSN machine switch.

In the future, new machines will only come with OPC UA over TSN, making it much easier for machine builders and operators to implement connected manufacturing systems and Industrial IoT solutions. In the meantime, companion specifications such as those between POWERLINK and OPC UA will provide a smooth transition, ensuring that existing machines and plants can easily be incorporated into new networks.

In 2019, B&R was among the first manufacturers to launch a comprehensive portfolio for communication using the open, real-time capable communication solution.

OPC UA over TSN – How it all began

  • September 2016: Foundation of the OPC UA TSN initiative at the invitation of network specialist TTTech and automation specialist B&R. The companies involved would later became known as the "Shapers".
  • April 2017: Belden/Hirschmann and Phoenix Contact join the Shapers.
  • November 2017: Pilz, Hilscher and Wago join the Shapers.
  • April 2018: Rockwell Automation announces it has joined the Shapers.
  • November 2018: The OPC Foundation announces its expansion into field-level communication with OPC UA over TSN.
  • November 2018: ABB, Schneider and Rockwell join the board of the OPC Foundation.
  • November 2018: The steering committee for OPC UA over TSN field-level communication is introduced: ABB, Beckhoff, Bosch-Rexroth, B&R, Cisco, Hilscher, Hirschmann, Huawei, Intel, Kalycito, KUKA, Mitsubishi Electric, Molex, Omron, Phoenix Contact, Pilz, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Siemens, TTTech, Wago and Yokogawa.
  • November 2018: The first functional devices with OPC UA over TSN are presented at the SPS IPC Drives exhibition.
  • November 2019: B&R launches an extensive portfolio of products that support OPC UA over TSN communication. B&R's portfolio includes X20 PLCs, bus controllers, industrial PCs, panel PCs and a TSN machine switch.

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