PI and the Winds of Change

  • Post category:PI NEWS
  • Reading time:4 mins read

If you want to be successful, you have to recognize trends and be open to those that are of great benefit to your customers. For example, equipment and system manufacturers of products for use in the production environment recognized the benefits of communication systems more than 30 years ago. In order to have freedom of choice regarding products, end-users have demanded open standards in this regard. This led, among other things, to the development of PROFIBUS and the founding of the PROFIBUS organization to ensure the long-term development and dissemination of this technology. In the beginning, development activities were focused on real-time communication for industrial automation. Only gradually were application-oriented aspects added. The first profiles, e.g., PA Devices, emerged. In the course of developing the second generation of communication systems based on the IEEE Ethernet standard, PI (PROFIBUS & PROFINET International) focused on important application-oriented aspects such as standardized data formats for profiles and diagnostics from the very beginning.

PROFINET quickly established itself as the market leader due to its close coordination with end-users. However, the application area itself was still the automation level – Operational Technology (OT). The use of Ethernet in the field of production has opened a wide door for almost barrier-free communication to the IT levels of production sites, even across sites. Even if the different data formats and semantics that have become established in the two levels still form a certain barrier, this already fulfilled an important prerequisite for realizing a higher level of digitalization.

The measure for a comprehensive realization of Industrie 4.0 is directly related to the two factors of consistent digitalization and standardized horizontal as well as vertical data and information exchange. The basis for this is a robust real-time capable communication technology for OT and a powerful secure communication platform for production control as well as for data exchange with the cloud and other IT services. The result of this changing environment is that industrial communication has become even more important and dominant than it was before.

However, this changed environment has also decisively altered the perspective of the working groups involved in technological developments. On the one hand, the strong focus on communication issues has given way to an increased thematic breadth, which in addition to the communication view also refers to different application aspects and takes a cross-level view. On the other hand, development processes have changed. Today, one organization is hardly in a position to cover all aspects. And this is not even necessary because in the IT area of the industrial environment, for example, the OPC Foundation is available, an organization that has already provided a solid basis of established technologies that form an ideal complement to the technologies in the OT environment.

The complement includes the two aspects of standards for vertical communication and standardized data formats. It was, therefore, logical for PI to develop these aspects in cooperation with the OPC Foundation. With regard to the communication channel, the experts demonstrated a high degree of foresight years ago when they decided to allow OPC UA as a coexistent channel in PROFINET networks. Thus, only cross-level data formats had to be worked on. In this context, companion standards were created in joint working groups for various aspects, in which open information models are specified; others are in the works.

There is already another field on the horizon that can only be addressed through cooperation with other organizations. The availability of TSN (Time-Sensitive Networking) raises the question of convergent networks in the OT area, in which other Ethernet-based communication systems are used in a system in addition to PROFINET. It must be possible to configure such networks in an overlapping manner. Another example of an overarching field in this context is security. End users are already asking for harmonization of the different approaches.

This change called for a new strategic direction in the development of PI’s technologies. PI has taken up the challenge. The answer is the transition from a previously communications-oriented to an information-oriented technological portfolio.


Dr. Peter Wenzel
Executive Director

PROFIBUS Nutzerorganisation (PNO)