13 Apr 2024

Industrial networking experts discuss trends in network connectivity

Talking Industry

The recent Talking Industry panel discussion, sponsored by the Drives & Controls Exhibition, delved into the intricacies of network connectivity in the industrial sector. The discussion, which featured seasoned experts David Bradley-Foley, Managing Director of HMS Networks, UK and Ireland, and John Browett, General Manager of CC-Link Partner Association Europe, highlighted several key trends shaping the landscape of industrial communications.

Networking trends

HMS Networks’ annual survey of industrial networking technologies for 2023 revealed a notable 7% growth in the number of installed nodes, with a rising prevalence of multiple networks being operated by users. Industrial Ethernet emerged as the frontrunner, now constituting 68% of total network usage, while Fieldbus technologies maintained a stable presence. Wireless solutions, although still modest in market share, experienced accelerated growth, signalling a shift towards wireless industrial networking solutions in factory automation.

David Bradley-Foley underscored the challenges posed by existing wireless infrastructures predominantly based on 2G or 3G technologies, citing bandwidth limitations and maintenance issues. He emphasised the significance of fast-reacting networks, particularly in ensuring safety amidst the operation of machinery and Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs). With the advent of 5G, industries are increasingly gravitating towards deploying private 5G networks, previously perceived as cost-prohibitive but now more feasible with reduced costs, enabling real-time communication and connectivity even for legacy machines.

Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN)

John Browett shed light on the evolution of Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) as a pivotal component in facilitating deterministic and convergent communications, essential for Industry 4.0 applications. TSN, which integrates seamlessly with Industrial Ethernet, emerged from the realm of professional broadcast and media, leveraging standards established by the IEEE to synchronise devices across networks. Browett drew parallels between TSN and the operation of a railway network, elucidating its role in ensuring precise timing and prioritisation of network traffic through mechanisms like the “QBV” standard.

The QBV standard allows the same network to be used for many different functions, whereas in the past, you may have had one network for safety, one for motion control, another one for your cameras, etc. But with TSN, you can now just put all this together on one network. In turn, this ensures that machines are simpler, less expensive, and faster to develop.

The launch of CC-Link IE TSN in 2018 marked a significant milestone, offering gigabit bandwidth coupled with TSN capabilities in an open industrial Ethernet platform. Browett highlighted the versatility of TSN in consolidating various network functions onto a single infrastructure, resulting in simpler, more cost-effective, and expedited development of industrial machines.

The insights shared by industry veterans David Bradley-Foley and John Browett underscore the evolving landscape of industrial communications, driven by the adoption of advanced networking technologies such as 5G and TSN. As industries continue to embrace digitalisation and automation, the importance of robust, high-speed, and deterministic networks cannot be overstated. The convergence of these trends heralds a new era of connectivity, enabling unprecedented levels of efficiency, safety, and innovation in industrial operations.

For those interested in revisiting the engaging panel discussion, the on-demand video is available by clicking here.

Company info: Talking Industry