Redefining Reliability: How Single-Pair Ethernet Elevates Security and Efficiency in Industrial Network Communication

By Contributed Article | October 10, 2023

With its ability to dramatically transform data transmission in industrial applications, SPE is redefining the future of secure and reliable network communication across diverse industries.

Amid the metamorphosis of industrial connectivity, a remarkable innovation is taking center stage: single-pair Ethernet (SPE). With its ability to dramatically transform data transmission in industrial applications, SPE is redefining the future of secure and reliable network communication across diverse industries. While standard Ethernet has long served as the bedrock for process and factory automation plants, SPE is emerging as the central element that is improving contemporary automation networks and shaping the industries of tomorrow.

A new era of Ethernet connectivity

Single-pair ethernet simplifies data transmission over a single pair of wires, seamlessly integrating with existing Ethernet frameworks while enhancing device connectivity and enabling smaller packaging density. It forms a single IP-based network, eliminating the need for specific gateways and simplifying connectivity throughout the automation pyramid.

SPE facilitates direct end-to-end data transmission from multifunctional sensors to the cloud, offering versatile transmission rates from 10 Mb/s to 1 Gb/s over distances of 40 to 1,000 meters. Additionally, it supports Power over Data Line (PoDL) and complies with connector standards defined in IEC 63171-2 (IP20) and IEC 63171-5 (IP67).

SPE opens the door for protocols like PROFINET and OPC UA to harness its capabilities without major overhauls, making it a versatile choice for various applications. However, what truly sets SPE apart is its ability to cater to the diverse requirements of different industries, offering a range of sub-standards differing in data rate and line length, along with various power supply options. This flexibility ensures that the best solution is chosen for each specific application.

In the automotive industry, SPE has already demonstrated itself as a proof of concept. Now, industry is actively working to replicate this success within the factory automation sector as it addresses similar challenges. The industrial landscape is facing a shortage of skilled workers, coupled with a significant rise in sensors and actuators. The complexity of managing various bus protocols with fewer personnel leads to a network solution that is easy to build, install, and maintain. SPE is that solution.

Enhancing cybersecurity and interference shielding with SPE

As cybersecurity concerns loom large, single-pair Ethernet shines as a credible solution with built-in security mechanisms. Currently, many existing communication protocols completely lack network capabilities and security features. With the integration of SPE, we harness the robust security mechanisms found in the upper layer of the OSI (open systems interconnection) model, akin to those employed in standard Ethernet. Given that SPE aligns with standard Ethernet at the OSI layer, users can leverage comprehensive cybersecurity features often absent in current communication architectures.

Consider past instances where cyberattacks on existing automation platforms went completely unchecked due to the absence of cybersecurity measures at the Operation Technology (OT) level. SPE now introduces essential cybersecurity features to bolster OT security. Through the convergence of Information Technologies and Operational Technologies, SPE is a key component in securing the factories of the future and thwarting advanced hacker attacks, including those targeting the lower levels of the automation pyramid.

One of the top concerns in industrial applications is signal interference and electromagnetic interference (EMI). SPE addresses these challenges by building on the reliable foundation of standard Ethernet. Ethernet has a proven track record of working effectively within frequency converters, motor starters, and other industrial components, provided proper grounding, bonding, and shielding measures are in place.

The requirements for SPE connectors mirror those of M8 and M12 connectors, ensuring reliability even in demanding conditions. With well-established criteria for shock and vibration resistance, SPE connectors offer a dependable solution for industrial environments, as well as maintaining consistent pullout forces, vertical, and lateral force tolerances.

The SPE System Alliance: Uniting for a Common Goal

The Single Pair Ethernet System Alliance stands at the forefront of this transition with a shared mission of promoting SPE technology across the Industrial IoT and other application areas. SPE’s diverse capabilities have captured the interest of numerous companies and industry leaders, who are now actively considering its incorporation into their strategic roadmaps.

As a testament to SPE’s increasing significance, the SPE System Alliance has recently welcomed its 62nd member, underscoring the global acknowledgment of SPE’s potential. According to the 2016 HMS studies, Ethernet-based communication architectures accounted for only 30% of two-wired systems. In less than a decade, the landscape has drastically transformed, with recent data revealing Ethernet-based communication now dominates the industry, making up about 60-66 % of all communication among two-wired systems. This trend continues to gain steady and well-deserved momentum.

With even moderate adoption rates, the Alliance predicts that SPE is poised to capture a substantial market share, potentially reaching 10% by 2030, or approximately 50 million nodes, in alignment with IEEE forecasts. In the event of rapid adoption, this figure could surge to as high as 180 million nodes, further bolstered by increased utilization in segments like process automation and building automation.

The path to a synchronized future with Single-Pair Ethernet

As we look ahead, the potential of SPE extends far beyond automation. SPE holds considerable impact and influence within building infrastructure, factory automation, process automation, wind farms, solar installations, smart city initiatives, and even the integration of elevators and escalators within modern smart buildings. In the industrial realm, SPE can transform intrusion detectors, motor controllers, humidity sensors, vibration sensors, encoders, and numerous additional sensors. It can facilitate predictive maintenance through AI, revolutionizing day-to-day operations in process plants.

The adoption of single-pair ethernet is not just a technology shift but also a response to demographic changes in the industry. With a retiring workforce, the demand for simpler, more intuitive network solutions is on the rise. Consider your computer today; adding a new keyboard, mouse, or connecting a smartwatch is as simple as plugging it in, reflecting the efficiency that younger generations are familiar with. Novice engineers are accustomed to plug-and-play setups and IP-based networks, and SPE aligns perfectly with this expectation of a connected future.

SPE stands as the catalyst ushering in a new era of industrial connectivity. It is forging a path towards a future characterized by superior levels of cybersecurity and heightened efficiency in industrial network communication. The transformative force of SPE transcends industry boundaries, promising to reshape how we connect and communicate in the digital age. While SPE is but one piece of the puzzle, it is an indispensable component in crafting the image of our future.

Learn more about SPE solutions from Weidmüller and  access the SPE technology whitepaper.

By Simon Seereiner, Business Development Manager SPE, Weidmüller Interface GmbH & Co. KG and John Froustet, Director, Device & Field Connectivity Division Americas, Weidmuller USA

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