Tom Burke looks at how automation specialists serving the semiconductor industry can drive the sector forward with Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN)
The production of semiconductors is vital to nearly all modern technologies, helping to drive key breakthroughs in the digitalisation of industries and in our daily lives.
The U.S. is a global leader in semiconductor R&D, chip design, fabless firms as well as integrated device and microprocessor manufacturing, with American companies having a combined share of almost 50% of total global semiconductor sales1. These businesses are also among the most automated, with the sector even surpassing automotive as the largest customer of industrial robots, with approximately 109,000 new units purchased globally in 2020 alone2.
As the acceptance of automation technologies in semiconductor manufacturing is a given, device vendors serving this sector can therefore take advantage of these favourable conditions. To drive their customers’ success even further while growing their market share, it is crucial for companies to offer advanced, highly competitive solutions that can address the semiconductor industry’s current as well as future challenges and needs.
Data transparency for responsive, quality-driven manufacturing
Fabs and other sector-specific manufacturing facilities have a track record of pushing the performance boundaries of automation and smart manufacturing when it comes to semiconductor production. With every technological step forward, they are getting closer and closer to creating truly flexible, autonomous and responsive infrastructures. These can independently run entire processes, self-optimise their performance and adapt to varying conditions in real-time. Therefore, the first aspect that vendors should deliver with any automation technology destined for the semiconductor industry is maximised performance.
In addition, producers of chips and other electronic equipment need to ensure maximum precision and accuracy, operating under stringent environmental conditions to deliver high-quality products. Effective track and trace systems that can monitor the movement of resources and goods across factories, as well as the entire supply chain, are also needed. To succeed in this, it is crucial to set up a network that, in addition to deterministic performance capabilities, can also support higher enterprise-level systems for robust material tracking and tracing throughout the entire production line and beyond. Ultimately, what semiconductor manufacturers require is a network technology to enable the highly effective convergence between the operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) domains.
Automation devices with TSN advance semiconductor manufacturing
TSN addresses these needs, as this technology was developed to enhance industrial Ethernet so that it could merge disparate types of data traffic. In effect, thanks to TSN functions, it is possible to support additional standard protocols, such as Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). More precisely, by providing guaranteed data transport with bounded low latency, networks based on TSN are able to transfer best-effort traffic as well as mission-critical data in a timely manner.
This innovative technology delivers these benefits by enabling advanced time synchronisation, traffic shaping and scheduling methods for traffic prioritisation, as set out in the IEEE 802.1 Ethernet standards. In particular, the new clock synchronisation can support high-speed, extremely accurate and deterministic operations on the shop floor, such as motion control. At the same time, traffic prioritisation enables the network to feed different systems with either real-time traffic or best-effort traffic.
Given these key benefits, the positive impact that the application of TSN to automation products can have in driving up the competitiveness of users, as well as developers, is clear. More precisely, vendors offering TSN-enabled solutions can meet current and future market needs while advancing the performance of their devices.
CC-Link IE TSN supports future-oriented devices for fabs
Selecting the right network technology is crucial to helping vendors deliver truly future-oriented devices. When companies opt to use CC-Link IE TSN for their products they can offer TSN functions and benefit from additional advantages. Most notably, this is the first open industrial Ethernet that combines gigabit bandwidth and TSN. As a result, in addition to traffic synchronisation and scheduling, the technology also supports today’s Ethernet speeds such as 1Gbps transmission rates. This is key to facilitating the prompt, simultaneous transfer of large volumes of IT and OT data from different assets.
CC-Link IE TSN was also designed to provide a broad development ecosystem. Thus, vendors can leverage the tools that are best suited to address their specific needs, in terms of end product performance as well as time, resources and investment. Thanks to these features, automation specialists that leverage CC-Link IE TSN can maximise the opportunities available in the semiconductor sectors, helping to drive the industry forward.
Tom Burke is Global Strategic Advisor at The CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA).
1. Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) (2021) 20212 State of the U.S. Semiconductor Industry. Available at: https://www.semiconductors.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/2021-SIA-State-of-the-Industry-Report.pdf
2. International Federation of Robotics (2021) Executive Summary World Robotics 2021 Industrial Robots. Available at: https://ifr.org/img/worldrobotics/Executive_Summary_WR_Industrial_Robots_2021.pdf