Avik Bhattacharya
Ixia Product Development Manager
Blog

Smart Factory Drives Next-Generation Industrial Networks

December 13, 2016 by Avik Bhattacharya

“Smart factory” is the new buzzword for the industrial automation sector. The use of control systems, such as computers or robots, and information technologies is expected to bring a revolution in the way machines and processes are handled in an industrial environment. To take advantage of the improvements in efficiency, uptime, and functionality that industrial automation can deliver, the underlying networks must provide reliable and deterministic interconnections of machines and control systems.

Ethernet has become the obvious choice for building these underlying networks because of two main reasons—first, it is based on open standards, which keeps costs low. Second, Ethernet is widely used in enterprise networks today, which makes data access much simpler from the control room to the factory floor.

But the best-effort paradigm of Ethernet protocol does not provide guaranteed delivery of data with a guaranteed quality of service—a MUST for industrial control networks. Time-sensitive networking (TSN) over Ethernet enables low and deterministic latency and guarantees for communication of the most critical control traffic over a single communication network.

Time Sensitive Networking

TSN is a set of IEEE standards that provide reliable and low latency connections while interoperating with regular Ethernet. The standards work on the following principles to ensure a reliable network:

  • Provide a network-wide precision clock reference
  • Limit network delays to a low and deterministic value
  • Keep non-time-sensitive traffic from interfering with critical traffic

Real Deployment Challenges

TSN1

TSN is not a single technology, but rather an ecosystem of technologies working together to achieve the goal. In an industrial network, the network elements (switches or routers), as well as the end points (machines or control systems), need to work in tandem while adhering to all or a subset of these standards.

All the equipment coming from different vendors to the plant floor creates an interoperability challenge in deployment. At the same, it is important to prove the viability of real-world scenarios to fuel the adoption of TSN in the industry.

Tackling Challenges as a Community

As an industry leader in network infrastructure validation, Ixia was called upon by leading TSN vendors to join hands in this journey. Ixia’s IxNetwork provides validation mechanisms for TSN protocol conformance and performance including time synchronization quality measurement (802.1AS), measurement of loss and latency of time sensitive traffic and analysis of the accuracy of the TSN traffic scheduler (802.1Qbv). With evolving IEEE standards and increasing adoption of the standard across the industry, Ixia is providing the first TSN validation solution in the market.

TSN2

Several TSN technology promoters, such as Cisco, Intel, National Instruments, Belden/Hirschmann, Bosch Rexroth, B&R Industrial Automation, KUKA, Schneider Electric, Innovasic, and TTTech have joined the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) to create a TSN testbed to display the value of these technologies in a manufacturing ecosystem. Ixia is an active partner in supporting the testbed activities as a validation solution provider. In the IIC TSN Testbed Inauguration Plugfest (June 2016 at NI in Austin) Ixia tools were used to test the following complex multi-vendor scenarios:

  • Overall TSN topology debug for time sync and schedule
  • Test TSN Talker behavior
  • Test TSN Switch/Relay behavior
  • Test TSN gPTP Bridge behavior
  • Test TSN gPTP Slave behavior

TSN3

An instance of the TSN testbed was recently on display at the IoT Solutions World Congress 2016 in Barcelona.

TNS4