How to Build a Sustainable Data Backbone for Industrial IoT

Learn about how Single-Pair Ethernet (SPE) is revolutionizing industrial automation.
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The modern economy is a data-driven one. Since every decision a company makes is driven by data, in many ways, data is the backbone of modern businesses.

In recent years, manufacturing companies around the world have recognized the tremendous value of their data.

They understand that they can use this data to improve their operational efficiency, reduce their costs, and meet their sustainability goals.

This is why we have heard so much about digitalization in manufacturing in the last few years. Digitalization promises to allow manufacturing companies to leverage the data that they produce to improve their decision-making.

Although manufacturing companies recognize the value of their data, they have struggled to access and leverage the data that their control systems produce.

The biggest hurdle to accessing their data is the multitude of proprietary fieldbus systems that are used by control systems.

In this article, we will explain how Single Pair Ethernet is being applied to industrial automation to provide a robust, Ethernet-based connection from the sensor to the cloud.

Single Pair Ethernet, also known as SPE, is one of the most exciting topics in industrial automation today.

Many people believe that SPE will be the backbone of the IIoT revolution because of its ability to provide easy and secure access to the data that was previously difficult to access in control systems.

Single Pair Ethernet (SPE)

Democratizing Field Communication

Let’s start by looking at the changes in industrial infrastructures that are happening right now. Traditionally, industrial communication technologies, also known as fieldbuses, have been built on proprietary hardware and software.

Eager manufacturers developed their own communication hardware and communication protocols for a very specific use case and we ended up with a fieldbus zoo.

As you can see here, there are hundreds of different communication technologies available to use in different applications.

Field communication technologies

Each communication technology exists for a reason and has its own advantages and disadvantages. In general, these communication protocols were designed with the needs of the industry in mind when they were designed.

They were designed to be suitable for connecting a limited number of devices and transferring a small amount of data. They were not designed for data access with network characteristics in mind.

But automation technology has taken big leaps forward in the last few years. In modern automation systems, we have more connected devices producing more data than ever before.

As Industry 4.0 continues to become a reality, we will see more processes automated with intelligent devices and smart sensors. These devices will produce even more data than what companies are dealing with today.

Single Pair Ethernet: The Solution

To accommodate these increased levels of connection, the automation industry needs a modern network that can handle larger amounts of data being transferred at higher speeds to more connected devices with easy data access.

Let’s see how Single Pair Ethernet meets these needs by continuing a trend that is already active in the industry.

The automation pyramid shows a hierarchical view of the types of devices that you may find in an industrial automation system.

Here, you can see that in a traditional automation system, Ethernet communication was reserved for IT systems at the top of the pyramid.

traditional Automation pyramid

These systems run non-real-time business applications that communicate with automation devices lower in the pyramid. These systems are typically managed by IT professionals instead of automation engineers.

At lower levels of the pyramid, proprietary communication technologies like ControlNet and Profibus were used to connect SCADA systems to PLCs and PLCs to intelligent devices like drives or HMIs.

These networks were less expensive than Ethernet-based networks and could provide more deterministic communication between devices.

Finally, for connecting PLCs to field devices like sensors another proprietary network like ASI-bus was used. These networks were typically cheaper and slower than the other networks but made it very easy to add devices to the network.

To transfer data from one communication technology type to another, a special device called a gateway had to be used.

Since transferring data from one communication technology to another was difficult, the minimum amount was transferred and most of the data produced by the manufacturing system remained stuck at the level where it was created.

The Advantages of SPE

In recent years, advances in Ethernet technology have reduced the price and increased the speed of data transmission.

Because of these advances, industrial ethernet networks have largely replaced proprietary communication technologies like ControlNet and Profibus.

The advantage of industrial ethernet networks is that they can easily communicate with IT systems without additional gateways and leverage the built-in security features available on Ethernet networks.

The advantage of industrial ethernet networks

Despite these improvements, many automation systems still use proprietary communication technologies for fieldbus communication. The data produced by the field devices remain hidden behind their gateways.

Single Pair Ethernet is the most promising technology on the market that can finally provide ethernet communications all the way through the automation pyramid from sensor to cloud.

Thanks to SPE, we can eliminate the proprietary communication technologies from manufacturing systems and provide a secure, robust way to access data all the way down to the field device level.

In many ways, this is the technology that will enable IIoT. With SPE we can connect all of our devices on a common network with modern security standards and democratize data access throughout manufacturing systems.

Use Case

Single Pair Ethernet can be used to connect an intelligent field device directly to a controller with no gateway in between.

Since SPE sensors support service discovery as defined by the ethernet standard they are very easy to integrate into a control system. The sensor informs other devices on the network about what data it has available and how other devices can access it.

Since the connection is based on Ethernet, larger amounts of data can be transferred between devices at high speeds. By looking at more data, companies can better monitor their processes and equipment.

For example, a warning could be raised if the PLC detected that the temperature of the sensor was increasing and this could be used to schedule predictive maintenance.

Of course, Single Pair Ethernet is not only for sensor-to-controller communication.

It is a complete network for the lower levels of the automation pyramid and is suitable for horizontal machine-to-machine communication and vertical machine-to-IT system communication since the communication is based on the Ethernet standard.

Use cases for SPE

This is only one of the thousands of potential use cases for SPE. SPE has the potential to revolutionize communication in many industries including building automation, process automation, smart cities, and more.

The Future is Here

The most exciting part of SPE is that it is not an abstract idea.

SPE is a proven network technology that has been used in the automotive industry for many years.

Since 2016, SPE has been used in modern cars for video broadcasting and connecting onboard systems. In fact, a Tesla is effectively an SPE network on wheels!

Innovative companies like Weidmüller are using their experience with industrial hardware and connectors to bring SPE technology to the industrial automation industry.

They have designed a complete set of rugged, easy-to-use hardware to implement SPE in industrial environments.

Weidmüller SPE hardware

Some of the main features of SPE hardware include:

– Reduced Infrastructure Costs

– Well Designed Connectors

– Suitable for Long Distances

– Enables Sustainability

– Reduced Footprint

– Enables Secure Communication

Reduced Infrastructure Costs

SPE cabling has just two wires and does not need gateways to integrate into systems. This leads to reduced hardware costs when installing a new system and reduced maintenance costs when maintaining a system.

SPE cables support PoDL or Power over Data Line where the power for field devices is supplied through the SPE cable. This further reduces the number of components that have to be bought and maintained as part of an automation system.

SPE cables

Well Designed Connectors

Even though Ethernet has been deployed in industrial environments, RJ45 connectors were never designed with industrial requirements in mind. Most of us have dealt with broken RJ45 connector latches at the worst possible moments.

This doesn’t happen with SPE connectors since they have a metallic latching mechanism that does not break when removed from a socket with force.

They are specifically designed for industrial environments. This means that they are strong against vibration and EMC, and are easy to assemble with only two wires to be connected.

SPE Connectors

Suitable for Long Distances

SPE cables are suitable for data transmission over very long distances.

An SPE cable can be used to transmit 10 Mbit/s data over distances of 1,000 meters. This makes it easy to integrate sensors that are distributed over a very long distance into a control system without having to lay optic fiber cables.

Enables Sustainability

SPE contributes to the sustainability initiatives of many manufacturing companies. Many manufacturing companies have goals to reduce their carbon footprint, and SPE can help companies to meet these goals.

By enabling better data collection, SPE allows companies to analyze and improve their energy consumption levels. This helps to reduce a company’s energy use and costs.

Since SPE networks use less hardware than traditional networks, the carbon footprint of a company is reduced.

Reduced Footprint

SPE hardware has been designed to take the smallest possible footprint in control panels. In fact, SPE connectors take up half the space of a traditional RJ45 connector.

This leads to smaller devices or similar-sized devices with increased port density.

SPE Hardware

To enable integration into existing systems, there are M8 and M12 mating interfaces available with the same mating interface as the IP20 connectors.

SPE connectors2

Enables Secure Communication

SPE is an ethernet-based network with modern security standards built-in. This means that manufacturing companies can secure their data access using internet standard security instead of traditional physical access methods.


One of the biggest challenges facing manufacturers today is data access.

Almost all manufacturers want a connected industrial control system and Single Pair Ethernet provides a way to eliminate proprietary communication technologies and gateways from a control system to provide a robust and secure way to transfer data from sensor to cloud through the automation pyramid.

SPE is a proven technology that has been used in the automotive industry since 2016. Now, many companies are adopting SPE in the automation industry. Right now, there are hundreds of innovative companies building products based on SPE.

Over 50 of these companies have come together to form the SPE Alliance, a group of companies focused on promoting Single Pair Ethernet in different industries and applications.

SPE is going to be a really important technology in industrial automation in the next few years. We suggest you get ahead of the trend by learning more about SPE and how it can be applied to industrial automation right now.

To learn more about SPE, check out the links to the Single Pair Ethernet System Alliance’s website and Single Pair Ethernet Use Cases page. These websites will give you a better understanding of the capabilities and applications of SPE right now.

Companies like Weidmüller are using their knowledge of industrial networks and connectors to design SPE hardware that meets the needs of industry with small sizes, simple assemble, secure connection, and vibration and EMC protection.

Finally, check out Weidmüller’s SPE solutions page to see how Weidmüller can support you with designing systems based on SPE.

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