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Rockwell hops aboard the OPC UA / TSN bandwagon

27 April, 2018

Rockwell Automation is the latest major automation player to join the group of suppliers that are backing the use of OPC UA for sharing information across multiple vendor systems, and TSN (time-sensitive networking) for improving the latency and robustness of converged industrial networks.

The group – known as the “Shapers” – now includes ABB, Belden, Bosch Rexroth, B&R, Cisco, Hilscher, Kuka, National Instruments, Phoenix Contact, Pilz, Schneider Electric, TTTech and Wago, as well as Rockwell. Still absent are any of the major Japanese automation suppliers, or Siemens – although Siemens was demonstrating a TSN application at Hannover (see below).

The Shapers group is developing OPC UA-based technologies for real-time device-to-device and device-to-cloud applications. These will allow easy and secure use of information across multiple vendor systems. In addition, TSN improves latency and robustness in converged industrial networks.

Explaining Rockwell’s decision to join the Shapers group, Paul Brooks, the company’s business development manager, said: “Connecting technologies across an industrial organisation while maintaining multivendor interoperability requires a harmonised, interoperable solution that uses consistent information models, communication and application behaviour – together known as application profiles.”

“That’s what this group of automation leaders are combining their expertise to create,” adds Sebastian Sachse, technology manager of B&R Automation’s Open Automation business. “Our solution will give manufacturing and industrial organisations best-of-breed I/O device control, motion and safety application profiles.”

OPC UA / TSN ensures the interoperability of different manufacturer systems in the same network. The Shapers group is working with industry consortia such as Avnu, IEEE, IIC, LNI 4.0 and the OPC Foundation. They plan to announce details of their approach to harmonising application profiles by the middle of 2018. This will mark the final hurdle to full interoperability. One aim is to provide one-stop certification of systems from single sources up to the device-profile level.

The Shapers group that backs the use of OPC UA and TSN now includes many, but not all, of the major automation suppliers

The companies have already published White Papers on OPC UA / TSN, and contributed to the recently released PubSub extension of OPC UA. They plan to set up a collaboration between the IIC and LNI testbeds.

Although Siemens has not joined the Makers group, at Hannover it was demonstrating how TSN can be used for robust, reliable Ethernet communications between machines and plants, even under high network loads.

The demonstration (on the Profibus & Profinet International stand) took the form of two robots, each communicating over Profinet with a Simatic controller, and demonstrated their synchronised motion. The TSN network was ensuring synchronisation between the controllers using the TSN-based OPC UA PubSub principle in which a “publisher”, such as a controller, sends data to a network, which is then available to all “subscribers”. The subscribers “decide” for themselves whether they need this information. Data transmission within the TSN network is predictable, irrespective of the network load.

The Hannover demonstration used OPC UA PubSub with TSN for machine-to-machine communications. Siemens says that the reliability of TSN provides significant advantages for automation applications and that the technology has now reached the required degree of technical maturity (including the availability of standards). It expects to release its first TSN-supporting products towards the end of 2018. These will include network components, communication processors, software and network management technologies.

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