Complex IoT and Industry 4.0 solutions require perfect interaction between hardware, software and connectivity with production systems. As a standardized connectivity solution, industrial switches make an important contribution to this interaction, because as basic coupling elements in Ethernet networks, they enable communication between Ethernet nodes. This year, Kontron introduced its new Industrial Ethernet Switch portfolio. In an interview , the three Kontron experts on the subject of switches Franco Genovese, Channel Director EMEA, Günther Dumsky, Product Manager Switches and Reiner Grübmeyer, Director Product Management Systems and Software, gave our Marketing Manager Eleonore Arlart fascinating insights into the world of industrial switches
E.A. : Why did Kontron make the decision to add a new product line called KSwitch to its portfolio?
Franco Genovese: Many customers pointed out to us that we had a gap in our portfolio, so we decided to add the KSwitch family to our product portfolio, to design, develop and manufacture it, thus completing our portfolio. Today we have about 60 different modules and models on the market, about 24 of them are real hotsellers because they are immediately available. All models are present in the important market of industrial automation, as well as in the infrastructure, infotainment and communication markets.
Industrial switches – compact, robust, cost-effective
E.A. : The USPs of a new product are of particular interest to customers. How does Kontron differ from other switch suppliers on the market?
Günther Dumsky: The most important commercial advantage is definitely our competitive price for the portfolio of PWs, None-PWs, Managed and Unmanaged Switches. Technically, our KSwitch portfolio benefits from the single-chip design and compact robustness. The switches are insensitive to temperature, shock and vibration, and also feature high security and electromagnetic compatibility.
E.A. : To what extent is the single-chip design actually an advantage for potential customers?
Günther Dumsky: We achieve better performance, higher throughput and higher safety with lower energy consumption with our single-chip design. Two other advantages are a smaller number of components and no or fewer cables. It makes the product family much more reliable.
E.A. : Your second point was the robustness and compactness of the switches. What exactly is the advantage for customers here?
Günther Dumsky: The robust design ensures reliable systems that reduce the total cost of ownership on the customer side. This is extremely important. High-level specifications such as EMC, shock, vibration, safety and temperature guarantee stable 24/7 operation even in harsh, demanding environments. Last but not least, the compactness of the switches has allowed us to improve the thermal performance of the entire product family, which also has a positive impact on energy consumption.
E.A. : We all know that availability of products and components is a big issue nowadays. Franco, can you say a few words about this?
Franco Genovese: Indeed, it is difficult to get components nowadays. Delivery times are getting longer and longer, and even wood and steel are hard to come by. Fortunately, things are different for our KSwitches. Through our partner Rutronik, the switches are permanently available on the rutronik24.com website and will be shipped to customers within 24 hours.
Trends and strategies in industrial automation
E.A. : Having talked about the status quo, it is also interesting to see what is new on the market and what will happen next. Reiner, how will the market develop in the coming months and years, which trends and strategies will become important?
Reiner Grübmeyer: There are basically three trends that we are actively following at Kontron. First, we have convergent networks, second, workload consolidation, and finally OPC UA. I would like to briefly summarize what is currently happening in industrial automation. We connect the sensors to the PLC via classic standard interfaces such as digital I/O, serial interfaces, a proprietary fieldbus, EtherCAT, CAN and others, all of which is very specific. However, the current trend is towards converged networks. In converged networks, everything is developed based on Ethernet. That way, the sensors are connected with Ethernet, but also the gateways, the Edge and even the Cloud systems. That's a big advantage, because it drastically reduces all the cabling and installation costs.
Talking about workload consolidation, we focus on the current computers, especially the servers and Edge computers, these are already powerful enough for running different applications on a single computing platform. This means, for example, our customers run their PoC software on one computer in a virtual machine under real-time conditions, while running edge analytics in parallel on the same computing device. This saves on computer installation costs.
And the third trend, OPC UA, solves the problem with software protocols. Every single sensor, for example, needs a specific software to exchange data. With OPC UA, we have a data model at hand that makes these interfaces flexible, transparent and platform-neutral. It is a harmonized protocol including all security aspects and also real-time capabilities. That is an advantage for our customers, especially for the system integrators and machine builders who need to integrate their software or hardware into an existing device or machine, for example. With OPC UA, they can run their software on a harmonized data model so that all devices and systems speak the same language, while on the hardware side, there is an Ethernet with TSN. In the past, it has always been a challenge to build an Ethernet with real-time capability. With the introduction of TSN, we now get real-time capabilities, failover, and redundant operation on a single standardized Ethernet.
E.A. : You mentioned TSN and OPC UA as an important trend in the market. How does Kontron plan to incorporate TSN into its future product portfolio, especially when it comes to industrial internet switches?
Reiner Grübmeyer: We have already developed TSN devices, a kind of starter kit that has a network interface card with TSN, as well as a switch, so that, when our customers want to run TSN devices, they can connect their devices directly to the switch or to the network card, which is included in our powerful computer system. The so-called starter kit then enables real-time operation and provides tools to train staff on TSN technology and to perform numerous measurements, for example, jitter. Without the software, the system can run as a standard computer system with its own software or operating system. This is a PLC edge computing device, and on the other side, we have developed a very small TSN gateway that also has some functions and TSN ports. These also enable real-time applications on a device. In addition, we are currently developing other products, including products in the KSwitch family, with TSN, as we see chipset and processor manufacturers integrating TSN technology into their portfolios. Customers who don't have gateways with switch functionality and need more switches, can rely on Kontron. We are also discussing further developments in this area and will provide our customers with professional services, on-site support and also engineering in the future to help them develop their own TSN portfolio.
E.A. : I think your answers gave us a really good overview of why Kontron decided to expand the switches portfolio. Thank you for your time and the valuable technical insights and outlook!
more about our Industrial Ethernet Switch portfolio here: