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Machine-to-Machine Communications Standard Alliance

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Updates to the TR-50 M2M standard are supported by collaboration between the Telecommunications Industry Association and OPC Foundation to encourage OEMs to build-in interconnectivity to their products.

The first thought that may be going through your mind right now is probably: What does the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) have to do with factory or process automation beyond ensuring that our phones—in their various landline and wireless configurations—work as expected. The fact is, as interconnected machine or device communications and remote access to systems increasingly become a part of our production and operations reality, telecommunications is fast becoming as integral a part of our automation systems as controllers, sensors and actuators.

For a bit of background, TIA is a Washington, D.C.-based, ANSI-accredited, global standard body representing nearly 500 companies in communication and computing.  “TIA enables smart devices to communicate across all platforms via agnostic, globally adopted standards to ensure M2M communications,” says Grant Seiffert, president of TIA.

In response to the manufacturing reality of increasingly connected machines, processes and operators, TIA announced at the ARC World Industry Forum this week that it has released key updates to its TR-50 machine-to-machine (M2M) protocol standards series (TR-50 TIA 4940.020 and TR-50 TIA 4940.000). These updates are targeted at helping OEMs implement connectivity in the machines they manufacture. The TR-50 standard was launched three years ago to help secure connectivity for M2M customers through data and information exchange and software apps for analytics, visualization, monitoring and remote sensing and operations.

Behind this update to the standard is an alliance between TIA and OPC Foundation. The two groups have consolidated development efforts in automation as well as cloud and network communications standards to connect the two previously distinct industries of public telecommunications and industrial device connectivity to develop fast-to-market M2M standards.

At first glance, it may be tempting to say that this is really nothing new. After all, industry has been implementing RTUs for machine communications for 25 years. Why the need for this standard?

Fred Yentz, president of ILS Technology and a member of TIA, says that although these RTU communication implementations have been done for years, they were done in “a proprietary, vertical” manner and not in a way that was applicable across industries.

“To get information from a device on the edge of a network to a consumption device, it’s just too complex to do industry wide without standards,” Yentz says. “In 2009, at a TIA board meeting, it was decided we couldn’t just have ad hoc standards across industries. So we decided to reach out to OPC to determine how to set out specifications for OEMs. After all, OEMs don’t have a lot of telecommunications people on staff, so this process was designed to make OEMs’ M2M specifications easier.”

The updates to the standard were drafted just last year and are now available, which is an incredibly fast period of time for the approval of an industry standard regardless of its complexity.

The speed of delivering these new standards to market was critical, according to Tom Burke, president of OPC Foundation. “These standard updates, which tie it all (telecommunications and automation system networking) together in a unified system architecture, were developed in nine months,” says Burke. “It was important to do this quickly for OEMs as well as for adoption by industry.”

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Burke points out, however, that even though TR-50 now addresses the private LAN/WAN and public telecommunications divide for industrial machinery applications, there is no “industry standard” until it’s actually adopted by the industry.

As for when devices adhering to this standard for use by OEMs will be available, Burke notes that major automation suppliers, such as Mitsubishi Electric Automation and Siemens, are working now to start implementing processors that adhere to the TR-50 standards.

“TR-50-enabled devices are not yet in existing product cycle, but could be in next cycle,” says Burke. He adds that the OEM market will likely start seeing the rollout of products with TR-50 capabilities by end of this year from both major and minor industry suppliers.

COMPANIES IN THIS ARTICLE: OPC Foundation
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