Man is using a tablet in front of a row of computers and control cabinets

Why open protocol standards offer the greatest opportunities for Industrial Communication

Why do we need open standards? They make life easier for all of us. And they make it possible for all market participants in the industry to interconnect their systems. Take, for example, the Universal Serial Bus, or USB for short. A familiar device in data processing standards, this universal connector provides, among other things, data transmission and power supply for mobile phones and computers. 

Standards also offer great advantages in industrial communication. Imagine the bottling plant of a beverage manufacturer. At one station the bottle is filled, at the next it is sealed. Once the first station is finished, it signals to the second station to unscrew the lid. The information is defined and specified in protocols. These specify the language (source code) in which the machines communicate and the meanings (variables) that are exchanged. The prerequisite: All the machines have to speak the same language in the form of standardized protocols – the basis for intelligent machine networking in a Smart Factory environment.

Paradigm shift in the industry

There are many standards in industrial communication. This variety emerged in part because control system manufacturers would develop a separate standard for their own system. Here’s the problem: The proprietary standards were incompatible with each other. Meanwhile, a trend has developed towards open, manufacturer-independent standards that allow flexible system integration and individual customization. This represents a decisive advantage for customers and users alike. Still, getting different systems and devices speak to the same language requires moving away from proprietary standards. This paradigm shift is being demanded and promoted by user organisations that provide their member companies with the specifications of their respective systems.


User organisations promote open communication standards

Various user organisations such as the ODVA are working hard to further develop and establish open industry standards such as PROFINET®, EtherNet/IP or CC-Link IE. Interested companies are encouraged to develop products according to these standards. LAPP is also a member of ODVA and other important user organisations. Ralf Moebus, Head of Product Management Industrial Communication at LAPP, explains what it’s all about: “By further developing open standards, we want to accelerate system integration and come closer to achieving our vision of plug-and-play networking. This means that when building and commissioning a machine, it is no longer necessary to spend a lot of time and effort programming which information is to be exchanged, since the information is already defined via open standards.” 

Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT), for instance, plays an important role in IIoT (Industrial Internet-of-Things) applications, such as the energy monitoring of machines. This is an open network protocol for machine-to-machine communication that enables the transmission of telemetry data in the form of messages between devices and also into the cloud. With its mechanisms for real-time data transmission via Ethernet network, Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) also provides important standards. Today, competitors are even working together to push their development further. They agree on a common interface, how their machines can be connected to higher-level systems and how the most important machine parameters are defined. As an example, they are developing the definition of a uniform machine communication interface called UMATI based on the data exchange standard OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA). The aim is no longer just to standardize the communication between control, sensor and actuator. With UMATI, the focus is on standardized communication between complete machines. The companies cooperate with the common goal of enabling more connectivity, more data for the connection and integration.

Finally, taking a look into the future of industrial communication, industrial 5G is a notable example of new standardization approaches in wireless data transmission. The next generation of mobile phone technology will therefore also open up completely new possibilities in industrial communication. This is a good reason for LAPP, as a member of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA), to commit itself to the development and integration of 5G in industrial production. The question of whether wired or wireless solutions are more appropriate depends on the application. Nonetheless, as Dr. Susanne Krichel, Senior Manager Business Development IoT at LAPP, remarks: “No matter what applications will communicate over 5G in industrial factory halls in the future, the infrastructure for 5G will still need to be wired…”

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