Our world communicates over Ethernet, with incredibly fast 10G and 40G networks leading the way. But this isn’t the case in industrial environments, like manufacturing and electrical power grids, that require deterministic communications for distributed control and measurement.
Until recently, standard Ethernet couldn’t meet this requirement due to the network’s best-effort delivery model that doesn’t guarantee a quality of service (QoS) level and provide a common time across connected endpoints.
This led to the development of industrial Ethernet protocols, like EtherCAT and SERCOS III, that could support reliably high-speed machine-to-machine communications. However, short of a single-vendor solution for a factory, bridging between these protocols requires extra cost and complexity in the form of network proxy devices. To varying degrees, these industrial protocols also created barriers between operational technology (OT) and the IT used by the rest of the organization (e.g., top floor).
Thankfully, this is about to change with new Ethernet IEEE 802 standards – referred to as time sensitive networking (TSN). Originally referred to as Audio Video Bridging (AVB) due to the initial application in deterministic AV applications, TSN brings guaranteed real-time performance to standard Ethernet. For industrial applications, TSN provides a common, deterministic foundation for various industrial protocols and will ultimately reduce network complexity, decrease networking costs, improve security, and further IT/OT convergence in industrial settings.
Many industrial companies understand the way seamless communications between the top floor and the shop floor can increase efficiency, productivity, and performance of the organization. This IT/OT convergence is made easier by deploying Ethernet-based TSN as a single network from top to bottom. As a result, all the computing systems in the organization can use the same infrastructure, whether to provide real-time control in an industrial setting or support standard IT application and cloud communication. For industrial companies, this allows for convergence of control, measurement, configuration, user interface, file exchange infrastructure, and other systems.
Such a transition is necessary to implement Industry 4.0, which calls for cyber-physical systems that will drive manufacturing operations to be smarter, networked, and autonomous. It is also aligned to the Internet of Things (IoT), which uses digital technology to enhance the collaboration among humans, machines, things, and enterprise systems.
For more information about Industry 4.0 in the age of big data, security breaches, and IT/OT convergence, download www.intel.com/content/dam/www/public/us/en/documents/solution-briefs/industry-with-iot-ebook.pdf.
The Avnu Alliance (www.avnu.org) is an open consortium of leading companies in the industry across the markets that are adopting TSN. These markets include industrial, but also automotive, and professional and consumer audio and video. The companies in the alliance, including Intel, National Instruments, Cisco, and many others, are working together to define interoperability requirements for implementing the TSN specifications and certification programs for devices.
TSN and Intel Platforms
Since the release of the Intel Ethernet Controller I210 in 2012, Intel processor-based platforms have supported many TSN features, including:
- Fine-grained packet scheduling enables 802.1Qbv TSN Time Aware Shapers: 32 nanosecond precision transfers enable implementation of TSN-compliant time-aware-shapers.
- Dedicated TSN Queues for network priority directly to applications: Dedicated TSN hardware queues to ensure TSN traffic is prioritized above other network traffic.
- IEEE 802.1AS and IEEE 1588 compliant network synchronization: Timestamps are inserted in packets per TSN specifications.
- Backwards compatibility with pre-TSN standards – IEEE 802.1Qav (AVB) traffic shaping: Support for IEEE 802.1 Audio Video Bridging (AVB) for handling of time sensitive media.
Intel is working on integrating TSN into SoCs and at the platform (board) level.
Jumpstart Your TSN Project
National Instruments (NI), Cisco, and Intel have collaborated on an Early Access Technology Platform for TSN that enables developers to more quickly build distributed systems using TSN. The platform can be used to perform synchronized I/O, code execution, and deterministic communication for distributed control and measurement loops, all using standard Ethernet.
The Early Access Technology Platform includes new NI CompactRIO controllers equipped with Intel processors and the Intel Ethernet Controller I210-enabled NIC. LabVIEW System Design Software allows these controllers to maintain synchronized time to the network and expose that time to both code running on the real-time processor and code running on the FPGA. Developers will find it relatively simple to tightly coordinate and schedule signal processing, control algorithms, and I/O among multiple systems distributed across a network.
Real-Time Systems Makeover
Today, there are a large number of real-time protocols that hinder the advancement of digital technologies in industrial settings. TSN will drive standardized and open communications across the organization, as well as further vendor interoperability and data exchange over IoT infrastructure. The Early Access Technology Platform for TSN will help accelerate innovation in this direction.