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Lessons learned from the early years of Industrie 4.0, such as interoperability challenges and enabling machine-to-machine communications, led to the creation of the OPC Foundation. Since its inception, the OPC Foundation has sought to provide and enable vendor-independent end-to-end interoperability for every industrial automation application. The OPC Foundation’s push for interoperability has led to the development of standards such as OPC UA and OPC UA PubSub over TSN. With the addition of new technological solutions, such as 5G, these standards must converge with 5G networks to deliver the interoperability Industrie 4.0 promises.
Why OPC Unified Architecture?
Initially, Industrial IoT (IIoT) devices being introduced to manufacturing and industrial shop floors were defined by diverse vendors offering proprietary software and hardware for implementing Industrie 4.0 models. The use of proprietary solutions naturally led to chaos because of the difficulties with designing connected systems.
To eliminate the connectivity and interoperability challenges diverse proprietary devices and communication protocols brought, the Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC UA) protocol was developed. The intent was to ensure that open and independent IoT architecture could be built using open hardware and software solutions. OPC UA was developed to be open to continuous improvement and the publish/subscribe (Pub/Sub) initiative was further integrated to provide a means for quicker communication compared to conventional client/server networks.
The success of OPC UA led to the major vendors developing solutions following the relevant standards, which eased the implementation of Industrie 4.0 initiatives.
Why OPC UA over TSN?
Standard IT network equipment does not understand the need for data to be delivered at specific timelines. This is important for real-time industrial automation and gave rise to the need for TSN. Although OPC UA guaranteed interoperability, it did not provide the deterministic network needed to send time-sensitive data. This is where a time-sensitive network (TSN) is important for delivering guaranteed latency within a guaranteed amount of time.
OPC UA over TSN ensures that IIoT networks can properly handle both the general data and time-sensitive data packages transferred over a shared network, which makes it possible for IIoT devices to receive data packets when needed and drive industrial automation. OPC UA over TSN delivers approximately 18 times more performance for time-critical applications compared to other options. Therefore, OPC UA PubSub over TSN speeds up the automation of robotic systems and real-time communications for field level or IIoT devices.
Why 5G networks?
The adoption of IIoT in the manufacturing industry led to networks that guaranteed reliability when transferring large data sets. These networks must have a large bandwidth that provides the download speed or data transfer speed Industrie 4.0 requires. 5G wireless was developed to provide the bandwidth and speed needed for Industrie 4.0 applications, which makes it more of an industrial wireless network than a cellular network.
The increased bandwidth and low latency processing 5G offers are expected to also be at the forefront of the journey to complete industrial automation. With 5G comes increased flexibility, 5G mesh networks, and devices which will replace the wired connections or networks on shop floors.
OPC UA over TSN and its convergence with 5G
It is important to note that the OPC UA protocol standard is designed for a continuous upgrade, as has been shown by the inclusion of a publish/subscribe model and convergence with TSN. Today, 5G is the new kid on the block, and it is expected that a symbiotic relationship between both protocols will be developed over time.
The openness OPC UA over TSN offers means 5G and TSN can be deployed within smart factories while addressing their primary use cases. For example, 5G will enable flexibility when accessing data within IIoT deployments while TSN will provide the deterministic network needed for handling time-sensitive data. Thus, integrating 5G with OPC UA PubSub over TSN leads to the seamless connectivity IIoT applications require to function optimally.
The combination of both technologies will provide deterministic end-to-end connectivity. An example is connectivity between digital input and output devices and a controller. The controller could be located within an edge device and the application of both technologies enables the edge device to receive large data packets at specific periods.
When 5G is integrated into a TSN-enabled network, the 5G systems serve as a TSN bridge which then provides ingress and egress port operations via the time-sensitive network translation (TT) functionality. The combination improves network reliability and enables comprehensive control of industrial networks.
The design configuration of 5G systems requires the use of only 5G devices as 4G-enabled devices will not work with 5G networks. OPC UA PubSub over TSN provides a pathway to explore the integration of 5G devices into networks consisting of devices with older network technologies. The unified architecture OPC promotes will also ensure 5G devices from diverse vendors can be connected to achieve interoperability for IIoT applications.
Converging OPC UA over TSN and 5G systems is an excellent option for meeting the advanced networking requirements of a fully connected, interoperable, and automated shop floor. Integrating both technologies will provide a common point and time for industrial endpoints and IIoT applications. The convergence is expected to be responsible for 36% of the $13. 2 trillion worth of opportunities industrial 5G is expected to create.