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OPC UA, networks, semantic information, human readable, machine interpretable, network nodes, synchronized, cycle time under 50 μs, HD streams, B&R Automation

OPC UA Over TSN Technology 2020 Update

Control hardware supporting new standard set for release in 2020, enabling new levels of IoT real-time communications, data exchange, and scheduling.

One of the leading automation and control trends for 2020 is the evolution and emergence of OPC UA (Unified Architecture) over Time Sensitive Networks (TSN). We’ve heard and seen a large number of automation and control suppliers line up behind the technology but now, in 2020, there will be new products and a continuing evolution of the technology.

OPC UA Information model provides semantic information which is human readable and machine interpretable. (Image source: B&R Automation)

For those new to this technology, the real-time determinism of Time Sensitive Networks allows machine-to machine OPC UA communications to better synchronize plants using multiple control vendors, along with the device-level communications within the machines themselves. OPC UA enriches the raw data used to communicate on today’s fieldbuses with semantic descriptions that add context and meaning, and make data more valuable for other devices or systems that receive the information. Interoperability all the way from the sensor to the cloud is the goal, along with its inherent ability to enable IoT applications in the future.

What Should We Expect In 2020?

According to John Kowal, Marketing Director for B&R Industrial Automation, there will be significant product and technology developments this year.

“We are already seeing control hardware that could be termed ‘OPC UA over TSN ready.’  These include switches, PLCs and industrial PCs.  These early product introductions mean that systems purchased today can provide a smooth transition from the current to future networks,” Kowal told Design News recently.

Kowal said that software development suites supporting OPC UA over TSN are expected in fourth quarter of 2020, enabling simple, automatic configuration of OPC UA over TSN networks for real-time communications, data exchange, traffic classes, routing and scheduling.

For controller to controller (third party controller) communications, it will be a simple to configure the address for publishing and what variables to publish.  To subscribe from a third party device, the expectation is that users will be able to simply import the information model from the third party controller along with the variables to subscribe to, and then write the subscribed value to the internal variable in the controller.

Sweet Spots For Early Adoption

OPC UA is all about the combination of interoperability and performance.  Overall system performance combines the determinism of TSN with the interoperability, semantics, security and performance of OPC UA with Pub/Sub.

Early adopters including a spectrum of automation technology providers, machine builders, systems integrators and industrial machinery users will benefit if they value these attributes.  These include discrete, batch and continuous process control, connectivity within and between machines, and communications between devices, edge controllers, fog and cloud systems.

“We are seeing interest among end users who mix control platforms on their production lines to achieve maximum performance.  They see an opportunity to reduce integration costs and still get best-in-breed performance,” Kowal said.

B&R has been thoroughly testing the performance of OPC UA over TSN. In the test setup, 200 network nodes are synchronized with a cycle time under 50 μs, while five HD streams are transmitted over the same network. (Image source: B&R Automation)

Users pursuing a digital business strategy across the enterprise will find OPC UA over TSN as the glue that binds manufacturing and logistics systems behind the scenes with their first mover advantages in e-commerce, mass customization, direct-to-consumer and related initiatives.

“Virtually all industrial device manufacturers would appreciate getting beyond the cost of supporting multiple fieldbuses, whether they are over TSN or not.  And I suspect most IT people cannot understand why OT has ‘flavors’ of Ethernet that are not natively interoperable,” Kowal added.

Open Source Automation Development Lab

The Open Source Automation Development Lab (OSADL) is embarking on its third phase of funding and functionality development for OPC UA over TSN.  The organization has already developed a pub/sub communications stack that is certified, lightweight, secure and stable along with development of a TSN driver.

Kowal said that OSADL complements the work of the OPC Foundation’s Field Level Communications (FLC) initiative.  OPC Foundation is defining a fieldbus standard with, for example, an information model for bus couplers or motion drives with basic states in common and with connection management.

“The OSADL project is one layer below FLC -- providing basic functionality for OPC UA to be able to communicate in real-time with third party devices.  OSADL is defining how information is transported, while OPC Foundation is defining what kind of information will be exchanged,” Kowal said. 

He added that the same is true for TSN, so a Linux system can have drivers for TSN optimized in terms of performance and quality, and can be configured as a TSN device with a common communication interface that hardware and component vendors can build on and provide chip level hardware drivers that talk to the chip in the most efficient way.

To Learn More:

An FAQ published by B&R provides additional technical information.

Al Presher is a veteran contributing writer for Design News, covering automation and control, motion control, power transmission, robotics, and fluid power.

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