The world’s first time-sensitive networking (TSN) testbed is being developed in a collaborative effort to change network infrastructure so that it will enhance the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). As this develops, it is essential that Industry 4.0. Machine designers, builders, and users have reliable and secure access to smart edge devices. This will force the current, standard network technologies to transform in an effort to meet the requirements of the next generation of industrial systems.
The testbed itself was designed to assist in creating a new wave of innovative technologies, products, applications, and services for the industrial internet market. The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), comprised of the corporations developing the testbed, are attempting to create a TSN in an “ecosystem of manufacturing applications,” which is based off of new Ethernet IEEE 802 standards. The goal of the testbed is to provide insight on the security of a TSN as well as highlight its real-time capabilities through the use of standard and converged Ethernet.
In order for TSNs to be taken seriously, it will be crucial that there are sufficient security measures utilized in order to protect the safety of IIoT users. It is essential that the TSN security is integrated as a layered system, meaning security is implemented throughout the network, because simply adding security as an additional feature at the end of development (air-gap security) leaves the network vulnerable as it is only a perimeter-based measure of defense. One beneficial aspect of time-sensitive networking is its ability to determine the exact instance data was sent and when it is supposed to arrive; if anyone intercepts packets of data it will be easy to tell. That being said, TSNs require a central management aspect that have the power to alter entire networks, which could be a challenge in terms of developing security.
The use of deterministic Ethernet will alter the various safety systems for TSNs by allowing messages to be scheduled from safety applications in order to provide high availability for safety systems. The real-time, synchronous mechanisms of the deterministic Ethernet will enable the connection of more devices and more machines, creating a powerful and integrated IIoT. Mike Justice, president of Grid Connect, believes that its use as a control network has the potential to replace other existing networks such as Profibus and DeviceNet.
As the real-time capabilities of deterministic Ethernet continue to develop, there will be several applications that will benefit from the use of a TSN. Machine-to-machine communication would improve as it needs to operate with low latency and high synchronization. Safety-based communications could access data more efficiently as it is currently mostly done through hardwiring. General motion and robot controls would improve as accessing data through standard communication could be done with ease. Essentially any latency-sensitive application would be much improved through the use of a TSN.
Another interesting application of a TSN can be observed through cloud and edge computing as they provide an infrastructure that will improve the functionality IoT technology. The use of deterministic Ethernet through TSNs could theoretically allow for machine control to be executed within a cloud environment, but there isn’t much room for error regarding latency in communication. Even though consumer and industrial applications of cloud-based machine control have different demands in terms of real-time dependency and data consumption, they are still in the foreseeable future if network stability can be established. Private, local clouds have had success in controlling machines, but large public clouds are more concerning with problems such as technical issues, data confidentiality, and security.
Time-sensitive networking is a feasible option for advancing the IIoT as long as it delivers on its promises of speed and security. It will be a major improvement to converge from information technology (IT) to operational technology (OT) in regards to the security and integration of cloud services. Justice states that “The controls industry is conservative and will follow the IT market in a few years after security issues are well-addressed.” The ability of TSNs to connect machines to the cloud and create real-time data messaging and analytics will improve the overall functionality of the IIoT.