Almost every business is familiar with use of Ethernet, even if they're not necessarily thinking about it on a day-to-day basis. However, whether or not it penetrates down to every level of a business is linked to the issue of real-time.
This means that any system of automation needs to show a deterministic response within a maximum time span - and this can rule out Ethernet and its not-exactly-rapid collision response.
However, in the past few years, tech providers have been attempting to create new ways to ensure that Ethernet can operate as a deterministic enough system to make it appropriate for businesses of all sizes, even if they need to link up multiple employees working across different sites.
One of these work-arounds could be the OPC-UA and TSN protocols, which Rahman Jamal from National Instruments explained in an interview with Electronics Weekly magazine.
OPC-UA (or unified architecture) is a machine-to-machine communication protocol for industrial automation. It is a relatively secure, open, reliable mechanism for transferring information between servers and clients that works at the application layer.
It ensures that data in the payload of the packet is in a common format that is understood by both the publisher and the subscriber - so in layman's terms, it would be the equivalent of two people talking in the same language.
Meanwhile TSN (or time-sensitive network) ensures time synchronisation and the deterministic delivery of packets, rather than dealing with the payload of those packets. In short, it ensures that a quality connection is made between two parties so they can respond to each other in real time.
This could be a way to help businesses keep using industrial Ethernet, but with the benefits that real-time communication can offer in terms of near-instant data transfer.
Mr Jamal explained that the OPC UA protocol can be transferred via traditional industrial Ethernet systems through timeslots or tunnelling.
"TSN is the response of the IEEE standards body to add the needed infrastructure to standard Ethernet. The adoption rate of industry will be determined by the needs of new applications which are challenging or impossible with industrial Ethernet," he added.
For example, companies that require lots of bandwidth for things like regular uploading of videos might benefit from real-time Ethernet.
"The broader need is for convergence of IT with OT. This provides data access that is needed for higher level business decisions, flexible manufacturing, and process optimization. In the US we often refer to this as the industrial internet of things," Mr Jamal concluded.
Earlier this year, IHS Markit's John Morse told Automation World he thinks growth in demand for industrial Ethernet devices is likely to pick up over the coming months, thanks to a strong manufacturing base in Germany and the buzz surrounding the internet of things.