Functional safety networks are becoming of paramount importance in industrial systems, due to the progressive innovation introduced by the Industry 4.0 paradigm, characterized by high production flexibility, reliability and scalability. In this context, new and challenging applications have emerged such as hyperautomation, which refers to the combination of machine vision, robotics, communication, and learning, with the explicit involvement of humans. This requires the pervasive and ubiquitous connectivity encompassed by the Industrial Internet of Things, typically achieved via wireless systems. As an example, wireless communications are today fundamental to open up to new categories of autonomous devices that can actively collaborate with human personnel in the production process. This challenging scenario has important implications for safety. Indeed, a reliable coordination among sensors, actuators and computing systems is required to provide satisfactory levels of safety, especially in the case of innovative processes and technologies, such as mobile and collaborative robotics. Hence, it becomes imperative to ensure the correct transfer of safety-critical data via communication networks. In this paper, we address the challenges concerned with functional safety networks and protocols in Industrial Internet of Things ecosystems. We first introduce the design characteristics of functional safety networks and discuss the adoption of safety protocols over wireless networks. Then, we specifically address one of such protocols, namely Fail Safety over EtherCAT (FSoE), and provide the results of an extensive experimental session carried out exploiting a prototype system, implemented using commercial devices based on a WiFi network. Finally, the outcomes of the experiments are used as a basis for a discussion about future trends of functional safety in the Industrial Internet of Things era.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited