Choosing an Industry 4.0 networking solution

06 August 2017

A recent whitepaper looks at the key requirements for Industry 4.0 success and proposes CC-Link IE as an Industry 4.0-ready Industrial Ethernet networking solution.

Industry 4.0 is becoming a reality for many and is bringing with it a host of benefits for both consumers and manufacturers, including lower costs, faster production, better resource efficiency, higher quality control and greater traceability.

The key enabling technologies that will allow Industry 4.0 to deliver these benefits are the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and cyber-physical systems, combined with cloud and even “fog” computing. The IIoT enables multiple devices to exchange data using Internet and Ethernet based technologies while cyber-physical systems are the actual machines or systems that will produce and/or consume the data and use it to help guide and coordinate their actions with other parts of a manufacturing process.

Ensuring sufficient performance is a key requirement for Industry 4.0 success so manufacturers planning to move towards these smarter factory concepts need to consider the impact that their chosen network technology might have. 

It is clear that industrial control networks are central to Industry 4.0 and will be based on Ethernet, because it is an international standard that ensures interoperability of industrial and commercial networks and makes IIoT possible. However, despite the convergence of standards which has increased the interoperability of networks and hardware from multiple vendors, developing hardware which is able to operate on all available industrial network standards is still impractical for producers of industrial products. Typically automation vendors will focus on a group of standards and technologies that will provide the most commercial success, based on market demand.

End-users will often try to choose just one standard, with their choice often coming down to the technology and its commercial benefits. CC-Link IE can offer a number of advantages. It is the only available industrial control network currently offering 1 gigabit Ethernet performance, so is able to provide the bandwidth needed for the next generation of industrial automation. CC-Link IE is also able to extend 1 gigabit industrial Ethernet network technology right down to the field device level, while combining multiple functionality such as motion and safety on the same network.

While the use of Internet-based technologies has increased the possibilities of what can be achieved in manufacturing, it has also increased the threats. CC-Link IE uses a number of techniques to maximise and optimise network security. It combines the physical and data-link layers of the OSI hierarchy with an open protocol that extends from the network to application layers. The result is an open but controlled knowledge base that CLPA partners are free to implement, but which reduces the exposure to unauthorised use.

Unlike other industrial Ethernet solutions, CC-Link IE can deliver deterministic control communications without needing the addition of Ethernet switches when used in line or ring configurations. Determinism is guaranteed by the CC-Link IE Field token-passing technique which eliminates the hardware costs and engineering knowledge required to implement network switches. Its shared memory concept offers benefits too, meaning that complicated programming to control communication is not necessary.

Fault tolerance
CC-Link IE technology offers ‘hot back-up redundant controller capability’ to allow systems to continue operating even in the event of controller failure. The option of a dual redundant fibre optic ring configuration is also available, further increasing the fault tolerance of a system.

The speed and scale of development – and the massive benefits that it can offer has resulted in a great deal of interest in Industry 4.0 since its concepts were first presented to industry in 2011. With commercial and domestic applications of Ethernet-based technologies, bandwidth was the key to delivering a wider, more advanced and higher performance level of services. Industry 4.0 will depend on greater bandwidth in a similar way.

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