A new universal connectivity standard will help bring Single-Pair Ethernet to the Industrial Internet of Things.
Eric Leijtens, TE Connectivity
The rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) places new demands on industrial networks. With the increasing number of IIoT nodes, there’s a need for a simplified, economical communication infrastructure at the field level. That’s why Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) is getting a lot of attention for IIoT. SPE uses two wires for power and data rather than four or eight and is a good candidate for open and scalable ethernet-based networks within automation systems.
For several years, SPE has demonstrated its value in the automotive industry. There, the growing number of communication nodes in vehicle networks has brought both a mushrooming of data traffic and a need to minimize the weight and bulk of the data cabling. Industrial networks now face similar challenges, and SPE can address them. SPE can be deployed in factories and warehouses to help reach the next level of automation.
With a single twisted copper pair, SPE enables data transmission up to 1 Gbps to the sensor and actuator levels of industrial automation. This communication channel provides a simple, economical way to communicate from the cloud all the way down to an individual sensor. It is a game-changing alternative to the difficult and costly task of connecting equipment to the cloud with analog and fieldbus technologies that do not speak the same “language” as high-speed ethernet.
SPE infrastructure also helps address other key challenges in today’s smart factories, including the trend toward miniaturization and growing needs for speed and precision. Thanks to its simple wiring, SPE enables the design of more compact industrial machinery with greater movement freedom – developments that are shaping the future of IIoT implementations and manufacturing overall.
One factor that will help promote the use of SPE is the new International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 63171-7 standard. It creates broad industry consensus on a power-and-data hybrid format for SPE that easily integrates machines into a network and improves power distribution.
Most importantly, the IEC 63171-7 standard has the support of more than 80 companies and multiple trade groups. Its development was driven by active committee work of the SPE Industrial Partner Network, of which TE Connectivity (TE) is a founding member. The network brings together leading industrial companies in an effort to advance SPE technology and create uniform, global standards for its use in industrial applications.
The new IEC 63171-7 standard helps address one of the key challenges design engineers are facing today: How to deal with networks that have grown increasingly complex with the introduction of more automation. Modern industrial networks typically include numerous communication protocols including ethernet, industrial ethernet, fieldbus and analog communication. The resulting communication infrastructure is not fully transparent. The growing list of interface types and power delivery mediums in use today creates compatibility and translation issues.
One reason SPE simplifies IIoT communication is because it integrates with existing industrial ethernet networks. SPE technology enables the network infrastructure to be IP-based and essentially fully transparent, reducing the need for expensive gateways that complicate the network and delay communication.
Moreover, the new IEC 63171-7 standard specifies the use of the same M12 connector used in factory automation applications for actuators, sensors, and Fieldbus. The M12 is a circular connector with a 12-mm locking thread that makes it easy to connect with existing ethernet infrastructure and replace traditional fieldbus and analog solutions. M12 is a tried-and-true format that integrates up to five power contacts plus the SPE contact pair. Consequently, it can be used to distribute power across the network instead of the point-to-point connections required in power-over-data lines. Benefits of this format include higher data and power supply levels (power transmission up to 11 kW/16 A and data transmission up to 1 Gbps/600 MHz in one cable) and reduced electromagnetic interference thanks to separate data and power contacts.
The M12 format is one of the most common connector sizes found in field-level applications. Its use not only simplifies system design but also allows companies to invest in SPE with greater certainty that the technology will be supported well into the future.
The M12 format specified by IEC 63171-7 is called a hybrid format because it allows for both power and data lines in the same connection. This format not only simplifies things for the end user, it also creates new possibilities for manufacturers developing SPE equipment. The development of hybrid interfaces allows SPE to more easily integrate with existing infrastructure.
The industry collaboration that led to the hybrid format does not end with the development of the IEC 63171-7 standard. As a next step, we will continue to identify solutions that will make widespread implementation of SPE possible. The SPE Industrial Partner Network is one important source of collaboration, and additional efforts are underway to support the natural progression toward hybrid interfaces. I am excited about what these developments mean for the future success of IIoT, and I look forward to the ways they will move our industry forward.