The changing face of future automation networks

06 December 2016

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Belden Inc. is demonstrating how automation networks will evolve in the future, from the field level to the control room. Visitors to SPS/IPC/Drives 2016 in Nuremberg were able to experience ’The Journey to the IIoT’, Belden’s vision on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Introduced by Dr Oliver Kleineberg, advance development manager for Belden’s Hirschmann brand, ‘The Journey to the IIoT’ reflects Belden’s ongoing investments in products and technologies for the development of tomorrow’s automation networks.

Dr Kleineberg says: “Automation networks usually have a very long lifecycle and experience only very little change throughout their operational time of life. With this in mind, it is no surprise that the models, which are used as a basis to build automation networks, have been refined over decades and as such they have also experienced little fundamental change. However, due to the new requirements from Industrie 4.0 and the IIoT, change is becoming more profound and this will significantly change the face of the automation networks of the future.”

Dr Kleineberg outlined how automation solutions are evolving from the classic Automation Pyramid to a new model that is designed around the requirements of the IIoT and Industrie 4.0: “The Automation Pyramid model has been at the very core of industrial automation systems for over a decade. It is a proven model that is able to separate complex industrial networks and applications into functional levels with high horizontal interaction. Within each layer of the pyramid, the networked devices exhibit strong interaction with each other. In addition, a significant amount of interaction happens with devices on the directly adjacent layers, but pervasive communication through the entire automation system is rare. Through localising and limiting functionality to separate layers and locations in the pyramid model, automation systems as well as the supporting networks are very resilient against large scale outages and faults. Yet, the systems build according to the automation pyramid tend to be strictly hierarchical and not very flexible.”

With the emergence of higher flexibility requirements from the Smart Factory/Industrie 4.0, such as individualisation of manufacturing and mass-production quality orders with very small lot sizes, the automation pyramid is slowly becoming an outdated concept. With the addition to new technologies such as TSN Real-Time Ethernet, wireless communication, miniaturisation and field level control, as well as remote access devices to automation networks, many vendors are already on a transitional journey, away from the strict pyramid model to a more open and flexible network model that can support their customers’ requirements. At the end of this long-term transformational process is a network structure that no longer resembles a pyramid: the Automation Pillar.

The key elements of the Automation Pillar are a much more diversified and larger field level and a much more important and functionally stronger backbone layer. In the transition from the pyramid to the pillar, most of the functions from the control layer of the pyramid will transform either into the factory backbone layer and will be provided by virtual PLCs, or it will transition into the field layer into dedicated or distributed control units. The control layer itself will transition into a connectivity layer that utilises high bandwidth real-time technologies such as TSN to provide the necessary high bandwidth – low latency connectivity between the backbone and the field layer. Since communication will be ubiquitous between most devices on the whole network, the inherent stability of the automation pyramid will be replaced in the Automation Pillar through providing robust network planning, configuration and monitoring, seamless fault-tolerant communication and cyber security.

Dr Oliver Kleineberg concludes: “Since communication is the central element of future automation networks, Belden focuses on the transition from the automation pyramid to the pillar – Belden products from the Hirschmann and Lumberg brands will continue to play a significant part in this new automation world.”

As an early innovator in industrial Ethernet, Belden knows industrial IT and delivers the next generation of industrial networking products, including wired, wireless and embedded products. With its global brands – Hirschmann, GarrettCom and Tofino Security – Belden helps companies minimise downtime and take advantage of the real-time data access and control made possible by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Through a seamless, secure and scalable industrial Ethernet infrastructure, companies are equipped to revolutionise their operations and achieve improved efficiency, productivity and agility. Visit to learn more.

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