Authored by Gary Bateman, Managing Director, LAPP India
We have transitioned to a smarter and more connected world. Connectivity plays a crucial role in integrating the various components in an ecosystem. In smart factories - machines, controls, actuators, sensors and tools are all connected to the Internet and the cloud.
Just as using a ‘codified and universal’ language enables the seamless exchange of ideas between people, in the manufacturing and cable industry, this is precisely what single-pair Ethernet (SPE) does for the automation systems in industries. It allows for continuous real-time data transfer right up to the field level and helps bridge long distances in large plants like chemical industries.
Initially, SPEs were introduced to replace the prevailing fieldbus systems and to provide the basic infrastructure for intelligent sensors and actuators. It was implemented due to the limitations of the fieldbuses that were previously used for communication in automation applications. Due to their limitations of becoming obsolete to reach the modern requirements of communication at smart factories, they were replaced by Ethernet.
With numerous changes taking place in the wire and cable industry, there is an urgent need for the adoption of new uniform standards in order to bring the new IIoT technology into the factories. In this regard, the Single Pair Ethernet has the highest potential. Unlike other cables, which are too large for connecting individual servers in factories, SPEs are a better alternative as they have only one pair of conductors. By adopting an Ethernet-based communication established via a single pair of cores, installation work and errors committed can be reduced significantly. This installation ensures a high level of consistency and reliable networking across all automation servers, thus enabling SPEs to have the flexibility of adopting new network structures from the field.
Also, SPE requires minimal area on site and has low component costs. It is seen that in settings where Conventional Ethernet wasn’t economical to be implemented, SPEs that offered fewer cores and came in smaller dimensions, played a pivotal role in establishing economical connection options and contributed to reduced space required for the components by covering longer distances. SPEs can cover up to 1,200 m unlike a copper-based Ethernet, whose distance is limited to a length of 100 m. These distinct features make SPE an integral technology for smart factories and Industry 4.0.
One of the main attractive features of the SPE network is its high compatibility with the applications where cabling cost, weight, and space requirements are crucial. It creates opportunities for SPE adoption across various industries. For instance, in public transport systems, SPE is apt for networking information systems for reserving seats, Wi-Fi, displaying stops and destinations, booking seats, etc. Even in the robotics field, SPEs with a thinner cable, longer durability and flexibility are used in sensors and actuators.
Due to these unique properties, space and weight are saved. Therefore, the robot would be able to move with more ease due to its reduced mass and will require less energy to do so. Presently, most manufacturers are quite certain that there is no alternative to SPE in the industry. Specific components are however needed for particular applications such as transportation/robotics/automation due to the difference of requirements and the application of SPEs in different industries.
The sensor actuator level in factories is an island in the context of networking. Single Pair Ethernet builds the bridge to other levels of the automation pyramid. SPE networks are light-weight, flexible, space-saving, and have a higher operational reliability. They will continue to serve as an economical and sustainable solution that will play a fundamental role in the future of IIoT across industries.