From its inception, Industry 4.0 has been centered around the industrial internet of things (IIoT). That is, rather than being defined by any single technology, digital transformation has been about finding new ways for previously isolated people, pieces of equipment, and software products to communicate over a digital network to better coordinate their activities and unlock new production possibilities. None of this would be possible without a network infrastructure that allows data to be collected, communicated, and analyzed quickly and reliably.
“Increasingly advanced automation systems—from robotized manufacturing lines, autonomous guided vehicles, smart machines, and integrated logistics—are helping to create smart factories. These data-driven, responsive facilities can greatly enhance the competitive edge of a business,” said Thomas Burke, global strategic advisor at the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA). “However, to realize this vision an effective means of carrying the data and control signals is required to create an autonomous, interconnected, responsive and flexible factory. Thus, the real protagonists are industrial networks.”
According to Burke, to be effective for digital transformation initiatives, an industrial network should have four distinct qualities, all of which are reportedly met by CLPA’s gigabit industrial Ethernet technology, CC-Link IE, and its newly release time-sensitive networking (TSN) variant, CC-Link IE TSN.
The first of these qualities is that an industrial network must be capable of seamless, top-to-bottom connection from the field to enterprise levels. This will allow management and operations to coordinate their activities to achieve demand-response manufacturing to keep pace with increasingly unpredictable customer demand patterns. To enable this, Burke expects industrial Ethernet protocols, such as CC-Link IE, to continue replacing legacy Fieldbus.
Secondly, high bandwidth to accommodate the growing quantities of complex, granular data being produced by IIoT-connected sensors and devices will be essential. To facilitate this, Burke said gigabit Ethernet capable of transmitting data at 1,000 Mb/s will eclipse older, 100 Mb/s industrial Ethernet installations.
Third, interoperability via open protocols and standards must be ensured, as many manufacturers adopt field devices and machines from different vendors to satisfy their production needs. Not only will an open protocol structure allow these devices to easily communicate with one another, but it will guarantee that future developments can be easily integrated into a pre-existing network without needing to rip-and-replace entire systems. In CC-Link IE’s case, interoperability specifications have been developed that allow it to communicate with Profinet. In addition, companion specifications allow CLPA’s CSP+ machine technology application to more easily communicate with OPC UA servers.
Finally, determinism will be vital to allow the prioritization of certain data types for applications in which even a small amount of latency cannot be tolerated, such as motion control. In addition, as field-to-enterprise Ethernet integration becomes more common, networking that enables even more accurate traffic scheduling will be necessary to minimize congestion further. CC-Link IE TSN enables these capabilities, Burke said.
The key design principles for digital manufacturing are “real-time information transfer capabilities as well as data transparency and availability across the enterprise for advanced analytics,” Burke said. “By combining openness, gigabit bandwidth, and TSN capabilities, CC-Link IE TSN is well placed to address these needs. As a result, businesses utilizing this network technology can succeed in the creation of advanced digital manufacturing strategies that enhance their productivity and competitiveness.”