OPC UA TSN: A Unified Solution for Industrial Networking?

Author photo: David Humphrey and Constanze Schmitz
ByDavid Humphrey and Constanze Schmitz
ARC Report Abstract

Industrial processes in the era of IIoT and Industrie 4.0 need open communications between devices, systems, and layers.  The industry began replacing industrial networks with Ethernet over a decade ago.  Since Ethernet was designed in the 1970s for office use, the technology’s inherent drawbacks drove automation suppliers to create industrial variations of Ethernet to address those drawbacks.  Unfortunately, these developments resulted in a half dozen different versions of “industrial” Ethernet, each representing the technical prowess, but also the commercial interests of the respective automation suppliers.  As in the fieldbus wars of the previous decade, end users were again lured into choosing an architecture favorable to a particular supplier.

Today, a new development is gaining momentum that, over time, could rectify this situation.  This development unites OPC UA, the well-established, de facto industry standard, with its new publish/subscribe model and “time-sensitive networking” (TSN), an extension of Ethernet specifications that enables deterministic behavior.  OPC UA TSN, its cur-rent moniker, has the potential to redefine and unify industrial networking as we know it.

By definition, Ethernet (standardized under IEEE 802.3) does not guarantee deterministic message delivery and real-time behavior.  However, extremely high performance enables it to serve most such applications, provided that network traffic is managed.  Ethernet’s natural habitat is the office world, ruled by the priorities of that environment, the so-called “CIA triad” (confidentiality, integrity, availability). 

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Keywords: Deterministic Ethernet, OPC, Publish/Subscribe, Time-Sensitive Networks (TSN), Industrial Communications, ARC Advisory Group.



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