Time sensitive networking is supporting Ethernet applications - Embedded.com

Time sensitive networking is supporting Ethernet applications


Increasing digitalization of production processes requires more and more openness, robustness, determinism and flexibility in industrial communication. Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) is eliminating the need for separating information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) networks in Ethernet applications, providing an approach to synchronization and precision timing for today’s industrial automation systems.

To support the requirements of the industrial market, Microchip announced a the SparX-5i, a new family of Ethernet switches for industrial automation networks. In an interview with embedded, Andy Ebert, manager – product marketing at Microchip, highlighted how the goal for TSN is addressed with dependable, standards-based, real-time communication and how this would be the future of Ethernet.

Currently there are separate IT and OT networks in the factory. TSN allows for these networks to be combined. TSN with Ethernet offers a standard way to handle the real-time communication needed in factory automation networks as opposed to current methods that have compatibility issues and don’t scale to the higher bandwidths that are needed as more and more devices become interconnected,” said Ebert.

Time sensitive networking (TSN)

The speed with which factories and plants are embracing the paradigm of digital transformation makes it necessary today to develop high-performance, interoperable networks that can support data as it travels from source to management systems, from the field to the cloud.

Industrial protocols that want to use Ethernet as a means of connection need to be able to accurately manage the different priorities of industrial traffic, and this cannot be guaranteed by the Ethernet standard as it stands. “The next challenge is the ability to handle the increasing amount of interconnected smart devices in industrial automation networks,” said Ebert.

Implementing systems with real-time capabilities allows companies to further refine their processes to increase quality and productivity while reducing costs. The technology that offers these benefits is the time sensitive networking (TSN) protocol.

TSN is an extension of industrial Ethernet that supports deterministic communications through accurate time synchronization and traffic scheduling. These mechanisms form the foundation for the convergence needed to provide the required levels of transparency.

Ethernet switches

With the demand for precision timing and synchronization in industrial automation systems, the use of multi-chip proprietary solutions has often been required, increasing both complexity and costs for developers.

To help the developers, Microchip announced the SparX-5i, a single-chip IEEE standards-based Ethernet switch family that offers the industry’s most complete TSN feature set. The SparX-5i family supports the key TSN IEEE standards such as IEEE 1588v2 and IEEE 802.1AS-REV profile for time synchronization, IEEE 802.1Qbv for traffic shaping, IEEE 802.1Qbu/802.3br for delay reduction, IEEE 802.1Qci for stream policing and IEEE 802.1CB for seamless redundancy. Moreover, the family supports standard L2/L3 Ethernet with up to 200G of bandwidth, incorporating 100M, 1G, 2.5G, 5G, 10G and 25 GbE interfaces for the most flexible connectivity solution available in the market. 

Whether you’re in the automotive and mechanical engineering industry or the food and beverage industry, TSN offers crucial advantages for industrial manufacturing, including bandwidth reservation, quality of service (QoS) mechanisms, low latency, and parallel transmission of multiple protocols – even in real time and without proprietary extensions to the standard as was the case with Ethernet. The TSN protocol introduces different classes of traffic sharing the same connection, reserves resources for flows with deterministic characteristics over time, and enables a common network that supports multiple communication standards such as the next 5G mobile communication.

SparX-5i block diagram (Source: Microchip)

TSN over 5G

The other big news in the industrial field is the advent of 5G. For the first time, a wireless communication solution will have what it takes to become a reference solution even for the manufacturing world where real-time applications demand deterministic and reliable network performance.

“The latest 5G standards support low latency communication, making TSN over mobile networks a possibility. Making TSN work over 5G is a challenge because mobile devices move from cell site to cell site. This can disrupt connectivity and impact latency and reliability. Local, private 5G networks (e.g. on a factory floor) could benefit from TSN protocols,” said Ebert.

So, it’s possible that in the near future, 5G and TSN could coexist in a factory floor implementation of the future where the primary connectivity requirements are met: 5G for flexibility and TSN for extremely low latency.

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