At the Automation Fair, Rockwell engineers said that manufacturers and machine builders are increasingly migrating toward Ethernet. They described beverage and tire manufacturers, along with an major aluminum manufacturer and an auto company that have recently adopted EtherNet/IP. Today, approximately 60% of the automation equipment sold by Rockwell is Ethernet-based, they said.
"EtherNet/IP is the most popular protocol in the industrial sector right now," Kann told us.
Part of that popularity stems from an a partnership with networking giant Cisco Systems, Inc. Starting in 2006, the two companies worked together on the development of an Ethernet-based protocol, with Cisco doing the networking part of the development and Rockwell doing the controls.
At the Automation Fair, Rockwell rolled out the Stratix 5700 Managed Switch, created in partnership with Cisco. The small form factor Ethernet switch is targeted at machine builders -- a user community that has also started moving toward the Ethernet world. Rockwell also introduced an Ethernet adapter, Ethernet cables and an Ethernet/IP encoder.
Migration toward Ethernet also appears to be opening up opportunities for Cisco, which says that its industrial business is now growing at 50 percent annually. "It's been a change for us, in terms of understanding the applications and understanding what's needed," noted Chet Namboodri, global director of solutions and marketing for Cisco Industrial Intelligence. "But it's also becoming a significant business for Cisco."
To be sure, Rockwell and Cisco aren't the only ones pushing migration to Ethernet. There are now multiple strains of Ethernet on the factory floor, including Profinet, Ethernet Powerlink, EtherCAT, SERCOS III, and others. Moreover, many engineers still prefer the fieldbuses, largely because they know the technology and want to leave well-enough alone.
"There are still some corners of industry where the fieldbuses are hanging around," Kann said. "But that's slowly changing."
Engineers at the show said the biggest draw for major manufacturers is the ability to tie their Ethernet-based IT systems to the shop floor. Doing so gives them remote access to the factory that didn't always exist in the past.
"It's irreversible in our opinion," Kann said. "The future bodes well that it will continue."