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Time Sensitive Networking and OPC UA FX


In today’s world, any computer or other Internet-capable device can be connected to a regular Ethernet local area network (LAN), e.g. inside an enterprise office building. Ethernet is a standardized network protocol and a technology that is used to control data transmission and device connection in LANs.

However, in an industrial automation system, connecting machines to the Internet is not as easy as connecting a notebook to the IT infrastructure. The reason for this is that the many specialized fieldbuses used in machines are incompatible and set strict requirements for networks in order to help achieve the necessary communication guarantees for applications. Does this mean that expensive dedicated controllers, gateways and application-specific devices will remain part of the industrial landscape for the foreseeable future? The good news is that it does not have to stay this way. The advent of Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) now means that industrial communication can standardize on Ethernet in the same way that enterprise IT has done.

What is TSN?

The industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) trend is revolutionizing the world of manufacturing and production. Industrial automation, along with other markets, can benefit in many ways from the full versatility of Ethernet. Open, standard and interoperable technologies like TSN and OPC UA are key components of IIoT. They bring standard connectivity to industrial machines and thus provide access to valuable data and contribute to significant improvements in productivity and efficiency on the shop floor.

TSN is not a single technology but refers to a group of mechanisms that have been introduced into the wider Ethernet standard by the IEEE organization. These mechanisms enable precise timing and guaranteed delivery of messages. Until now this has been achieved by proprietary fieldbuses that created closed eco-systems with defined boundaries often delivered by only a few suppliers. Open, standardized technologies make it possible for users to choose the best option for their production situation from whichever manufacturer offers the best solution. TSN also enables continued use of legacy applications, by providing the real-time and redundancy features that they require, without making any modifications.

Industrial systems rely on quick and precise communication of critical information. To guarantee this, TSN network components are time-synchronized and can operate according to a shared message schedule. In this way, TSN ensures bounded latency for communication across the network. These guarantees then make it possible to run other application traffic on a converged network without interfering with critical information. IEEE-compliance guarantees that well-known IT applications and industrial real-time traffic can coexist with just the few extensions on top of office networks, similar to software-defined networking.

What is OPC UA?

OPC UA is a widely used protocol that enables data to be modeled and exchanged in a standard format. It combines perfectly with TSN to support the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) vision by delivering a fully interoperable method for guaranteed communication between devices from any vendor. Open interfaces also cover the configuration of devices and interaction with network planning. This ensures that OPC UA FX (Field eXchange) networks and devices can be configured automatically as well as dynamically. With these simple, standard, and open application interfaces, complex processes are made transparent to the application and hidden from users. This reduces initial commissioning effort and enables systems to be extended or reconfigured flexibly.

What are the main benefits of OPC UA FX (formerly OPC UA over TSN)?

By using open and standard technologies like OPC UA and TSN in combination, the industrial automation market can avoid the danger that fieldbus providers simply add new layers of proprietary technology on top of TSN. OPC UA FX fulfils all of the strict requirements from industrial applications, while delivering all of the flexibility and interoperability known from enterprise IT:

  • Fully open, standard and interoperable communication
  • Precise timing and guaranteed delivery for critical messages
  • Critical and non-critical traffic converged on one network transparent to the user
  • Automated and dynamic network configuration based on application requirements
  • Ubiquitous, connection from sensors to the cloud without gateways
  • Backward and forward compatibility, integration of existing Ethernet devices

Applications of OPC UA FX (formerly OPC UA over TSN)

When it comes to a smart factory, devices from different manufacturers need to be able to communicate with each other and reliably relay critical message in real-time. OPC UA FX makes it possible to achieve this. First, however, manufacturers need to add TSN functionality to their devices.

This is where TTTech Industrial comes in. It provides a range of products that include IP solutions and network configuration software to enable the fast integration of TSN features into components, and easy set-up of OPC UA over TSN networks.

B&R uses Edge IP Solution to:

  • Implement comprehensive, configurable TSN functionality into its TSN product line
  • Reduce development time
  • Offer customers the opportunity to build TSN networks for even high-speed motion control use cases

Find out more in our case study.

The term “OPC UA FX” (aka OPC UA Field eXchange, UAFX) is the successor of the term "OPC UA over TSN" and used for field level communication.

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