Interoperable Communications Using OPC UA Over Time Sensitive Networks

Use of OPC UA over networks using a TSN transport mechanism aims to enable new levels of device interoperability, cloud connectivity and IT-OT convergence.

A group of leading automation and information technology suppliers are committed to adopting a system architecture that uses the OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) over Time-Sensitive Networking technology (TSN) to extend unified Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) communication to the controller level.

National Instruments has released a version of its CompactRIO controllers that supports TSN for selected customers that supports the technology at a foundational level. (Image source: National Instruments) 

ABB, Bosch Rexroth, B&R, CISCO, General Electric, KUKA, National Instruments, Parker, Schneider Electric, SEW Eurodrive, and TTTech are jointly promoting OPC UA over Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) as the unified communication solution between industrial controllers and to the cloud, according to an announcement at the most recent SPS Show. Based on open standards, this solution “enables industry to use devices from different vendors that are fully interoperable. The participating companies intend to support OPC UA TSN in their future generations of products.”

The logic behind the group’s announcement is that industrial automation solutions have traditionally been differentiated and separated from one another by different incompatible and non-interoperable standards used for communication between devices. But the downside has been that users have often found themselves locked into proprietary ecosystems. Vendors have developed multiple versions of essentially the same product to support these ecosystems, but this has been limiting innovation and the integration of new solutions, with customers not being able to optimize their automation solution to its full value.

Support for OPC UA over TSN

“OPC UA has broad support from a massive number of different companies and is one of the most broadly supported IoT technologies. It offers an excellent data model on top of the base technology which, along with the configuration and protocol pieces, adds a lot of value as well,” Todd Walter, Chief Marketing Manager for National Instruments and AVnu Alliance Industrial Segment Chair told Design News during a recent interview. “This technology, along with the Pub Sub capabilities and a new transport where TSN can be implemented to provide deterministic communications and interoperability between devices, has a lot of promise to it.”

The TSN for Smart Manufacturing testbed proposes to be an early implementation of TSN to show the value of the technology as well as some of the challenges in implementations from a number of different vendors. This testbed will also provide feedback to the relevant standards organizations on areas of further clarification and/or improvement. (Image source: IIC)

Walter noted that the development of TSN has been consistently built over the last few years starting with the work done through IEEE to develop the base standards, and then work done by AVnu to decide which pieces to use, how to use them and conformance interoperability issues. But even all of that foundational work only assures the network can be used in a common way but not that if a customer buys a controller from one company and an actuator from another that they will be able to work together. Devices would be able to use the same network but there is still a need for a next

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