11 Dec 2023

Network technologies support openness

To ensure plugfests and similar testing events are successful, network technologies that support openness, multi-vendor interoperability and unified communications are a must.

Thomas Burke, Global Advisor at CLPA, looks at the prominent role of industrial networks in plugfests.

The e-F@ctories of the future are all about the IIoT, where a myriad of interconnected devices share data to generate business intelligence and support smart operations. This type of framework requires seamless interoperability among all network nodes, which may come from a variety of vendors. Plugfests, gatherings where multiple network device manufacturing and developing companies come together to test each other’s products, offer an ideal environment to simulate real-world scenarios.

They offer a neutral and confidential environment where industrial automation developers have the opportunity to carry out hands-on evaluations of their solutions’ interoperability, as well as functionalities and conformance. In addition, this gives them a chance to address any issue before products hit the market. As a result, plugfests can help vendors streamline and improve their debugging activities.

Even more, these events facilitate collaborations. Participants are able to engage in technical discussions, showcase and talk through their products with other industry leaders, shaping the future of the industry as well as establishing valuable synergies.

TSN compliance and interoperability at plugfests

Many of today’s plugfests are supporting automation product development by focusing on one particular technology, Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN). This enhancement to standard Ethernet is considered an enabler for convergence and, consequently, the IIoT through its core capabilities. These include time synchronization, traffic scheduling and prioritization.

The value proposition offered by TSN to companies in a variety of sectors is driving the development of innovative network devices. With the capability of the technology to deterministically merge multiple types of traffic onto a single network, opportunities to evaluate and improve interoperability are more important than ever.

For the successful testing of various industrial automation components, these should be able to communicate, sharing the same protocols, such as IEEE 802.1AS and IEEE 802.1Qbv TSN OSI Layer 2 standards. To this end, many of the products tested at current TSN-oriented plugfests leverage the vendor-agnostic CC-Link IE TSN. This is the first open industrial Ethernet with TSN functions in addition to Gigabit bandwidth, and as such it has been providing a unique gateway for anyone interested in offering solutions compatible with this innovative technology.

As well as enabling early access to TSN, CC-Link IE TSN has also been providing automation vendors with a broad and comprehensive development ecosystem. This characteristic is extremely valuable to developers, as it helps them utilize the most suitable tools to deliver the products they want, within their required timeframes, costs and performance levels.

With openness, interconnectivity and interoperability being key elements of CC-Link IE TSN, we are likely to see the number of compatible network devices being tested at plugfests as well as reaching the market grow rapidly.