John Browett, general manager of the CLPA, addresses what sort of impact the concept of Industry 4.0, and importantly the technologies that underpin it, will have on open industrial networks such as CC-Link.

One of the biggest implications of Industry 4.0 is that the demands placed on industrial networks will increase significantly.

We are facing a potentially exponential increase in the amount of data manufacturing systems will handle as vision systems, batch control, regulatory compliance, quality management and more will mean that the amount of data those networks have to handle is going to rocket.

As a result, we require sufficient bandwidth to allow for this increased use. At present, CC-Link IE is the only industrial automation network technology that can provide a gigabit (1 Gbit/s) of bandwidth, which makes it exceptionally well placed to deal with the demands of Industry 4.0.

To find an example of how data intensive these applications can be one only has to look at the needs of the leading Korean flat panel display manufacturers. Their tolerance for so-called ‘dead pixels’ is almost zero. To put this into perspective, a modern HD screen has 1080 vertical pixels horizontally and 1920 vertically. That’s 2,073,600 pixels on each unit. The manufacturing processes have to check each of these pixels, hundreds of times a day to ensure quality and control yield. It’s easy to see how quickly applications like this will generate vast volumes of data.

As another example, the global automotive industry produces countless different combinations of each vehicle model at an incredible rate. It’s typical for an assembly plant to produce a complete vehicle at a rate of more than one per minute.

Producing these countless different versions at such a pace demands a huge amount of flexibility and a great deal of bandwidth to cope with both the production instructions and the quality control. Most models today have literally thousands of different model configurations depending on customer option choice. To complicate things further, it’s not uncommon for one assembly plant to produce a variety of models. Again, it’s easy to see how this puts huge demands on the networks that deliver this information to the assembly line systems that ensure the correct parts are fitted on the correct vehicle.

As well as the sheer quantity of data that the Internet of Things (IoT) element of Industry 4.0 demands, there is also an interoperability question raised by the M2M (Machine to Machine) issue.

If our factories are full of machines prompting other machines to take action, we had better hope that those machines can talk to each other effectively without any compatibility problems.

In order to make sure that machine X can talk to machine Y we need to ensure that a rigorous conformance testing process is in place. You have to be confident that anything designed for the network, works with the network.

It’s for this reason that the CLPA devotes a great deal of effort to ensuring that our partners’ products have been tested to the necessary standards. We have created a global network of conformance testing centres that ensure no matter where a partner is located, they have access to convenient local conformance test labs that help speed their time to market.

The evidence is compelling – there is an installed base of over nine million CC-Link devices, but every year the CLPA only discovers a handful of instances of incompatibility.