EIF 2023 Review - Industrial Communications

Author photo: David Humphrey and Constanze Schmitz
ByDavid Humphrey and Constanze Schmitz
Industry Trends

ARC’s European Industry Forum, part of the successful series of worldwide conferences in Europe, America and Asia, has been held in Sitges (Barcelona), Spain on May 15 - 17, 2023. The event offered exclusive presentations and workshops on strategies and case studies in line with this year’s topic “Managing Industry Evolution in Times of Global Disruption” to its 160 international participants from 20 countries.

Industrial Communications Session

The field of industrial communications has evolved continuously since the days of the fieldbus wars in the 1990s. Over more than 30 years, suppliers and industry consortia have worked together to create new robust communications solutions for industrial applications. Some open whole new realms of possibilities, while others fill in gaps.

At the ARC European Industry Forum in May, Stefan Hoppe, president of the OPC Foundation, Andreas Hennecke of Pepperl+Fuchs, and John Browett, European general manager of CLPA, updated attendees on the activities of their organizations.

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OPC UA to Extend to the Field Level

Stefan Hoppe of OPCF set the tone with an overview of the size and extensive reach of OPC technologies. Developed over the past decades, the OPC Unified Architecture provides a broad framework of industry communications solutions that range from protocols to information models, and include security and scalable connectivity from the field level to the cloud. Currently in the docket are OPC UA-based secured industrial interoperability and the extension of OPC UA to the field level. According to Hoppe, OPC UA FX (field exchange) already supports controller-to-controller communication, while work continues on controller-to-device (including device-to-device).

Finally, OPCF is working on a joint initiative with Ethernet-APL, an ideal enabler for extending Ethernet-based IT infrastructure from edge to sensor. Another future benefit will be the harmonization of process and factory automation solutions for safety, motion and real-time communication.

CC-Link Supports TSN

John Browett focused on CLPA’s activities in the area of time-sensitive networking (TSN) technology. Developing initially for the automotive industry, TSN proved to be the ideal timing mechanism to finally bring determinism to Ethernet. Nearly 20 years ago, the manufacturing industries decided to adopt Ethernet after ignoring the technology for several decades. While Ethernet was the de-facto networking standard around the world, it lacked critical features like determinism, so industry networking consortia modified the technology with the necessary time mechanism. While the idea was right, the result was at least 6 different versions of non-standard Ethernet.

CLPA is among the network consortia that has now integrated TSN. According to Browett, the advantages are simpler network architectures and machine designs, greater process transparency and better management, better OT/IT integration, and more productivity. Another big benefit is the convergence of network functions. Rather than having several fieldbuses for dedicated purposes, industrial networks like CC-Link can host all critical functions on a single cable, from application-specific IO control, motion and safety to standard TCP/IP traffic.

Ethernet-APL Paves the Last (Process) Mile

Andreas Hennecke of Pepperl+Fuchs provided an update on the status of Ethernet-APL. According to Hennecke, a goal of the APL development initiative was to reduce the complexity of integrating and operating remotely connected field instruments in areas such as commissioning, configuration, and device replacement. Field trials considered devices from multiple vendors using different protocols and communications technologies. Test scenarios involved media redundancy, simple device exchange, IP/ping storm tests, and netload tests. One test compared the speeds to download data from a Coriolis mass flowmeter. Via HART, the data needed 8 minutes to download while Profibus PA took 3 minutes. Ethernet-APL managed the task in just 10 seconds.

Now that the specification and testing are finished, suppliers are rolling out devices that support Ethernet-APL. Initial products were already available in H1 2023, and a slew of new product launches is scheduled for the remainder of the year.

ARC’s European Industry Forum & Platform

We like to thank our sponsors, who supported the ARC EIF 2023, and all our speakers and presenters, who made the event interesting, exciting and memorable.`

To complement the Forum, ARC Europe offers its online platform https://arc-industry-forum-europe.arcweb.com/en/, accessible 365 days a year. Its goal is to maintain the flow of information, and to foster network opportunities. On the platform you will find information concerning relevant economic developments and information on automation markets, as well as our quarterly industry webinars. 

Materials and presentations from the Forum will be made available on our platform https://arc-industry-forum-europe.arcweb.com/en/ after registration, depending on the package chosen. Forum attendees can download presentation slides, view video recordings and receive further materials on the platform.

For more information, please contact Ann-Kathrin Blech (mailto:ablech@arcweb.com).

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