Industry 4.0 – IT and OT Networks

In Industry 4.0 applications, converged networks add real value. They are characterized by the fact that the Information Technology (IT) networks are easy to connect to the area of Operational Technology (OT). This enables data from the production process to be easily used in software applications – for instance, to optimize processes. It also makes it easier to integrate cloud platforms, whether on-site or anywhere in the world. Reporting on the equipment or machine performance is also made easier. TSN is regarded as the “enabling technology” when it comes to these areas. It undertakes to enhance standard Ethernet with deterministic real-time capability. But is that really enough? Does TSN actually deliver these benefits to the user?

TSN: a Step Toward Industry 4.0

TSN is a building block along the path to Industry 4.0-compatible systems. That’s why PI (PROFIBUS & PROFINET International) turned its attention to this topic at an early stage and is currently working on the application of TSN for PROFINET. However, since TSN only refers to layer 2 mechanisms – that is, pure data transfer – it may well be helpful in overcoming hurdles in communication, but IT systems still don’t understand the meaning of individual pieces of data from the machine. This makes it necessary to semantically qualify the data – that is, to state something about their contents. Data is thereby transformed into information. With a suitable semantic description, a quality management system knows – without any additional configuration – that the received value corresponds, for instance, to a specific torque from a nut runner control. Only then can data be used in a profitable way.

PI Working Groups

That’s why PI has already been working on corresponding profile definitions for several years now. In these profiles, information from various devices is defined and standardized, independent of manufacturer. With TSN, these profiles can be used for further purposes, just like the full scope of PROFINET’s expertise. TSN doesn’t alter PROFINET’s application view. Furthermore, PI is now employing these profiles in its joint workgroup with the OPC Foundation, with the aim of creating open information models that can easily be made available to IT systems, also via OPC UA. PI’s application expertise is resulting in the development of companion specifications for OPC UA. This will make it even easier to implement Industry 4.0 applications in the future.

– Karsten Schneider
PI Chairman