Automation & Motion Control

Ethernet Converges on Factory Automation

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Rob Spiegel
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Progress in the IT and controls war
Rob Spiegel   1/18/2012 9:55:51 AM
Excellent article, Al. For years, a big stumbling block in the progress toward the networked plant has been the cultural differences between IT and the plant controls group -- as you mentioned, The war between the two groups seems to be easing. Sounds like Cisco and Rockwell are helping by serving both groups. I woldn't be surprised if vendors helped broker a peace. Some of the issues are throny. IT can reboot the office computers overnight to load a patch, but they can't do the same with the plant PCs.

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A Common Base
naperlou   1/18/2012 10:17:42 AM
Great article and interesting developments in the industrial controls world.  Of course, Ethernet does not require IP.  There are other protocols that are appropriate for the shop floor that utilize Ethernet as a transport, such as EtherCAT.  By standardizing on Ethernet, organizations can lower their support costs.  By designing devices that use Ethernet as the transport, engineers can develop systems that are more flexible.  For example, while EtherCAT is great for idustrial contol, there are functions that are better done with IP.  If these can be supported on the same device, then the system can become more flexible and more efficient.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Progress in the IT and controls war
Beth Stackpole   1/18/2012 10:49:49 AM
As I think Rob pointed out in his article on top automation trends for this year, many of the same technologies that are a force in the enterprise IT world are now a force in the world of the factory automation folks, which makes it easier and more natural for them to "lay down their swords" and collaborate. It can only benefit companies' quest for lean operations to employ technologies that keep the plant floor and the IT systems backbone in sync.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Progress in the IT and controls war
Rob Spiegel   1/18/2012 11:14:02 AM
Good point, Beth. That hadn't occurred to me. That certainly means that the plant technology is not foreign to IT.

Another trend that is helping matters is the formation of mixed groups that include members of both IT and control. These groups lead technology adoption and thus the needs of IT and control are both represented throughout the process of add new technology. 

Ann R. Thryft
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What's the typical backbone data rate?
Ann R. Thryft   1/18/2012 12:37:40 PM

Al, I noticed a mention of higher backbone data rates. Any idea what's typical now--10 Gbps, as in 10-GbE? Or has the shift begun to 40-Gbps?

Alexander Wolfe
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Re: A Common Base
Alexander Wolfe   1/18/2012 5:44:23 PM
Agreed; a great article. I think the most important element of the rise of Ethernet is that it's going to force vendors towards commonality, at least as far as intercommunications are concerned. OTOH, this won't eliminate vendor lock-in as much as one might suppose, because there are other proprietary elements involved in, for example, the tools chain used to program your PLCs. Writ large, we have a battle for control of the factory between the high-end (i.e., expensive), high-value vendors, and the low-cost, buy it online and do it yourself world.

Charles Murray
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Across-the-board Ethernet?
Charles Murray   1/18/2012 10:24:18 PM
With Rockwell saying that 60% of their business is Ethernet-based, we can only assume that there are a lot of people out there still using proprietary protocols. Any idea if we will ever see across-the-board Ethernet, Al?

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Re: Across-the-board Ethernet?
thingstodo   1/19/2012 10:42:18 PM
I guess I must be old.  I look at a the combined Rockwell/Cisco proposed 'Campus netowrk, a single robust network infrastructure'  where everything is connected as:

- cryptography - makes it harder to troubleshoot

- layers of firewall with many rules, which should be consistent but are REALLY easy to mess up

- selected services enabled 'by exception only' filtering unknown data at multiple points

- edge ports disabled by default, making troubleshooting more difficult

- a complex backup system required for the various switche configuration, with their various VLANS

- administration to keep the versions of all the switches synchronized and working together

I need data to flow in a timely manner to keep my mill running.  If a problem arises, I need tools to figure out what is wrong, so the failed component (or errant rule) can be located and rectified.

Getting coherent log data out of a Cisco network, in my opinion, requires a lot (400 hours? per year) of training in Cisco classrooms.  And personnel dedicated to network support. 

Or I can put in dedicated IO networks (Profibus, Controlnet, Devicenet, Modbus Plus, and all the old ways) and I can troubleshoot them, one at a time, isolated.

Fixing an IO network is, compared to fixing an ethernet network, a piece of cake.

Right now, our over-worked but pretty well trained IT guys, can't tell me why it sometimes takes 2 minutes to open a 5K text file from our head office via Lotus Notes.  I am quite technical on control systems, but not on ethernet - I already have a job.

TJ McDermott
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The smallest of things can derail your network
TJ McDermott   1/27/2012 10:21:11 AM
I like this trend; I'm wholeheartedly behind it and reach for Ethernet/IP whenever possible in my projects.

(You can hear the BUT coming, can't you?)

This trend is riding on a venerable but misused component.  Industrial networks should not be relying on RJ45 connectors.  They're not robust and were never intended for the factory floor.  I'd like to see a new standard industrial connector for Ethernet, and I'd like to see the companies involved for once agree quickly on it.  M12 Code D would be nice, but I won't insist on it.  But something better than what was originally designed for office and home use has to get onto the factory floor.

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Rise of Ethernet
apresher   2/2/2012 4:04:03 PM

Changes in industrial networking have always been "life in slow motion" especially with the amount of legacy systems running older proprietary protocols.  It's not going to happen overnight. But except for simpler device-level networks, Industrial Ethernet protocols are the 800 lb gorilla in the room at this point when it comes to industrial control/factory enterprise networking and connectivity.  The other networking technology to keep an eye on is WiFi.

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