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This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

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4 Benefits of Time-Sensitive Networking for Industrial Robots

Time-sensitive networking (TSN) gives businesses the performance and tools they need to deploy and scale industrial robotics technologies. Robots are a core part of automation, helping companies improve their efficiency and productivity to deliver the best experience possible for their customers. TSN enables companies to successfully implement industrial robotics by ensuring compatibility between vendors, simplifying deployment and maintenance, and streamlining network traffic management.

1. Simplified Compatibility 

One of the biggest benefits of TSN is simplified compatibility between different robotics and automation vendors. New industrial robotics developers emerge every year, creating an increasing number of options for businesses to choose from. This is great for getting the exact robot needed for a certain task, but it can complicate network management.

TSN brings a much-needed compatibility upgrade to layer 2 of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) network reference model, which is the data link layer where node-to-node transfer happens. This is where nonstandardized protocols from various robotics vendors trickle down to create inefficiencies in network communication. TSN can provide standardization by allowing businesses to use Ethernet technology to merge all those disparate data streams on one network.

In other words, businesses can continue using existing Ethernet network protocols, such as Profinet, in layers 3 through 7 of the OSI reference model while standardizing data transfer at layer 2. It resembles the “all roads lead to Rome” philosophy on a network level. Companies can use industrial robots from any vendor they want, even if they require different network protocols.

This feature of TSN also simplifies whole-network management, not just robotics management. For example, internet of things (IoT) devices are often used in conjunction with industrial robots and may use different network protocols. With TSN, network managers don’t have to spend hours creating custom solutions to connect these devices across other protocols.

2. Network Determinism 

TSN allows businesses to schedule and manage traffic based on priority. This is a standardized feature of TSN baked into the IEEE 802.1 standard, ensuring they can differentiate between urgent and non-urgent traffic. Time-aware scheduling takes the consistent low latency of TSN a step further by optimizing network bandwidth.

This is a highly advantageous feature for industrial robotics applications since it means businesses can tag robot-related traffic as urgent. Highly congested networks can slow down data transmission speeds for non-urgent traffic, such as employee web browsing, and reallocate resources for critical business.

Time-aware scheduling enables businesses to make the most of their industrial robots. For example, a manufacturer might want to use a modular automation system to reduce downtime and increase throughput. This is a great application for industrial robotics and automation tools. It will ensure manufacturers prioritize traffic to and from the automation system.

TSN allows key automation data to be prioritized and transmitted in the shortest possible time. Network determinism can even scale robotics strategies by helping businesses manage higher traffic loads on their networks.

3. Easy Scalability 

Easier scalability is one direct benefit of standardization at the data transfer level of Ethernet networks. Businesses trying to manage numerous network protocols may find scaling a robotics implementation challenging, straining bandwidth. The standardized communication TSN provides makes scaling a robotics strategy much more streamlined.

A key feature TSN is synchronization across devices. This is essential for large-scale robotics strategies. It ensures that metrics like pick rates or operating efficiency are consistent across dozens or even hundreds of robots on a single network.

TSN can also provide more consistent latency, which is helpful for implementing industrial robotics on a large scale. Consistently low latency is vital for real-time communication between devices. This is especially true for organizations that want to automate large fleets of robots and draw in data from other sources. Large-scale automation requires consistent, rapid communication, which will falter if latency is fluctuating.

In fact, consistently low latency is one of the core reasons 5G networks are gaining ground in industrial applications. Ethernet and 5G are two different networking technologies that are seeing increased adoption because businesses need solutions to improve latency for automation technologies. TSN provides improved latency on more secure Ethernet networks, allowing large-scale robot fleets to effectively communicate.

4. Simplified Setup and Maintenance 

Devices that communicate with each other easily and efficiently make deployment and network maintenance much simpler. Selecting and integrating new industrial robots is easier since businesses aren’t limited to one ecosystem or network protocol. TSN can converge data streams from different network protocols, maximizing the number of options available to companies when selecting new robots.

Additionally, standardization at layer 2 of the network provides a baseline and starting point for troubleshooting. If a robot has difficulty communicating with the system or other devices, technicians can start at layer 2 and work from there. If different types of robots are not having difficulty communicating with the network, the issue is likely specific to one robot or its protocol instead.

When maintenance and deployment are easier, so is employee training. TSN is standardized and can make education more consistent in degree programs and within businesses’ in-house offerings. It could even help address Industry 4.0 hiring challenges. The manufacturing industry is experiencing a severe technical skills shortage due to the rising popularity of automation and robotics. Streamlining training for critical technical skills like network management could help resolve this hiring challenge and provide rewarding jobs to thousands of employees.

TSN and the Future of Robotics 

TSN is vital to the future of industrial robotics and the businesses increasingly relying on it. Automation is vital to the survival of many companies in an era where high efficiency and productivity are key to meeting demand. TSN can provide the standardization, simplicity, and performance businesses need to implement industrial robotics strategies.

TSN has the technology to support easy scalability, helping businesses future-proof their operations. It can even simplify employee training and robot and network maintenance. TSN is more than a solution to disparate networking protocols. It is the innovative network solution that robotics and automation need to meet today’s challenges.

Emily Newton
Emily Newton
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine celebrating advances in science and technology.

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