Industrial Ethernet has made a distinct
mark on factory networking, but now we'll see how far that dominance
extends into every facet of industrial machine control and communications. Though there
is still ample room for application growth, Ethernet has clearly reached the mainstream as a solution for monitoring and data acquisition, machine control and remote connectivity.
But the jury is still out on how much it will dominate in
real-time Ethernet applications such as high-performance, multi-axis motion
control, as well as in lower cost devices such as sensors and process control
"The advances in the Industrial Ethernet market have been
tempered by the impact of the recession particularly in segments such as
machine building where real-time Ethernet is crucial in applications such as
motion control," says Chantal Polsonetti, vice president of advisory services
for the ARC Advisory Group, whose focus areas include industrial Ethernet and
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"In 2008 and 2009 we saw slower growth
than expected but, as you've probably seen from the financials, 2010 was a
great year for customers and suppliers," she says. "One of the key issues
facing industrial Ethernet now is product availability and the need for more
devices that are compatible with industrial Ethernet, particularly at the
The selection of an Ethernet protocol is most heavily
dependent on what is driving the bus. Machinery builders and users of real-time
Ethernet need deterministic operation and time synchronization such as IEEE-1588.
Some companies are driven by vertical integration requirements, where internal
IT policy carries over to the plant floor and there is a desire for a single
network to be supported throughout the organization.
In a recent Design
survey, when asked what network protocols they work with in
new designs, responses lined up reflecting the influence of the major control
system suppliers in North America. EtherNet/IP (51.5%), native TCP/IP (49.5%),
Profibus/Profinet (24.7%), Modbus TCP (24.7%), DeviceNet (23.2%), CANopen
(15.5%), Ethernet Powerlink (13.4%) and EtherCat (8.8%) all received
"Support for a protocol by the primary control system
supplier is paramount, and typically a third-party device manufacturer will get
into an installation by supporting the primary control platform provider's
protocol," says Polsonetti. "If an OEM machine builder wants to put in a
real-time network such as EtherCat or Powerlink at the machine control level,
they will put in a gateway to get the machine onto the factory network."
Other selection factors include the ability to meet
customer-specific requirements, such as drives for web handling or other more
stringent application requirements, and the IT organization's role in the
Application and Development Challenges
In terms of industrial Ethernet's impact on applications
within the factory, there is no doubt its presence is being felt particularly
in the areas of monitoring and data acquisition (67.7% of survey respondents
claimed such use) and remote connectivity, maintenance and monitoring (51%). Design News
readers also reported
significant use of Ethernet for machine control (54.2%), but the overall number
dropped significantly for higher performance applications such as multi-axis
motion control (14.8%). Use of industrial Ethernet to connect machinery to
manufacturing operations software (such MES) and business systems totaled 30.3
percent. While the technology has made a big impact on operations already,
there is also significant room for growth and expansion of network-based
automation control solutions.
"Industrial Ethernet is becoming the
standard at the controller level, but that is much less true for the device
level including I/O, HMIs and drives," says Polsonetti. "When looking to
integrate sensors and lower end devices, which are typically inexpensive and
may not be microprocessor based, the penetration of Ethernet into those kinds
remains a question."
"I'm personally interested to see what
happens in process control. Certainly the hazardous areas are out of the
question for Ethernet use, but how far it gets into the device level is yet to
be determined," she adds.
As more companies pursue enterprise integration, it's the
commonality of Ethernet networks for the end customer that makes it attractive.
Key internal drivers, especially with the larger manufacturers, include their
skill and knowledge base, as well as familiarity with the technology versus
proprietary networks which may have limited support.
ERP requirements are also important
because enterprise level software can create a demanding challenge in terms of
its data needs. ?As a result, industrial Ethernet is potentially a key
enabling technology across the board from production scheduling, to supply chain,
to inventory management and all of the enterprise level applications.
According to the Design News
survey, the main challenges and concerns about using
Industrial Ethernet for automation control focus on managing the network's
hardware and software infrastructure, reliability and performance. More than
one-third of all respondents cited management of the physical network (41.9%)
and software network configuration (32.3%) as key concerns. Almost an equal
number focused on real-time control performance (34.8%), network performance
(30.3%) and reliability (35.5%) as primary challenges. ?The final
big concern is in the area of security (33.5%).
The main Ethernet
application interest within process control is at the controller level
to link the controllers, I/O and HMIs. Beyond that, time will tell how far
wired Ethernet plays out in this industry given the alternatives and high level
of interest in the process industries for wireless technology. This high level
of interest in wireless is key to process industries because the large number
of field devices, outdoor installations and applications that tend to cover
more physical area in those industries.