Will Industrial Ethernet Render Field Bus Systems Obsolete? | Automation.com

Will Industrial Ethernet Render Field Bus Systems Obsolete?

Trends in automation technology

Although it is universally accepted that Industrial Ethernet is transforming automation and process technology, this does not imply that it is the only feasible option, as Martin Müller, marketing manager of the Business Unit 'Automation Systems' of Phoenix Contact, points out. Numerous exhibitors taking part in INTERKAMA+, one of the leading international trade shows that make up HANNOVER MESSE (Hannover Fair) April 24-28, 2006, are staging an information-packed event that examines the possibilities and limitations of Ethernet in industrial applications. This themed event will be backed up by the special presentations 'Wireless Automation' and 'Secure Automation'.

Users should not expect all automation systems to be based on the same language. Developments in the field of networking technology, bus systems and the whole area of control, monitoring and sensor technology are moving forward at such a fast pace and the world-wide supply market is simply too diverse for this to happen in the near future.

As Martin Müller explains, there is not even a uniform protocol for Industrial Ethernet, as can be seen by the use of the abbreviations 'http' and 'ftp'. This diversity extends to the communication systems - especially field bus systems - and will also impact on nascent wireless technologies, which are highlighted in the very topical special presentation 'Wireless Automation' within HANNOVER MESSE 2006.

Modern process and automation technologies place quite disparate demands on communication and bus systems, and also on sensor technology and transmission. For this reason Martin Müller expects heterogeneous systems architecture to remain the norm. Naturally, this also reflects the interests and marketing policies of the major developers of proprietary protocols, for whom a "pedigree" or single universal system of networking would be disadvantageous.

The fast rate of development allows no leeway for the creation of new norms and standards. Furthermore, as the technology is being constantly upgraded, any standards quickly become outdated. In addition to Office Ethernet, a wide array of new systems and components have joined the arsenal of industrial automation in the last few years, including USB, Firewire, Bluetooth and other established technologies. HANNOVER MESSE 2006 will provide a showcase for virtually all these new technologies.

On the positive side, whenever Industrial Ethernet is successfully introduced as a central communication system, it does improve overall performance and interoperability, facilitating the use of disparate intelligent technologies. For example, it permits the transmission of sensor data to a PLC. In this scenario, every equipment manufacturer will do his utmost to exploit the specific benefits he provides - including the system of protection and the operating conditions.

It is when large amounts of data need to be communicated that the benefits of Industrial Ethernet systems compared with field bus systems become most apparent. As Martin Müller says: "On the one hand we have field bus, which is based on machine/sensor concepts. Performance is limited because these systems were developed decades ago, primarily to connect numerous sensors. Thus practically all field bus systems, including the Interbus system from Phoenix Contact, have always been further developed. In a sense, familiarity made them more popular." Consequently, field bus systems were constantly being adapted for a broader spectrum of functions.

The current trend favours networking concepts originally developed for commercial applications involving the transmission of large amounts of data. These systems are now challenging field bus systems. According to Martin Müller: "Industrial Ethernet becomes interesting in applications which demand the transfer of large quantities of data and/or when there is a flow of data to office and administrative applications."

In his opinion, it would make sense to relieve field bus systems of the additional functions they have been saddled with and use Industrial Ethernet instead. This would facilitate the achievement of clear structures and make it easier for engineers to access information from the production process as many are well acquainted with Ethernet technology.

Many users question whether Ethernet, which was originally for administrative and office applications, is really suited to industrial applications. This fear can easily be allayed. During the last few years many new products have emerged on the market - for example, the IP 65 and IP 67 versions of the Ethernet connector.

What about real-time use?
Many of the systems currently being offered meet this requirement without additional hardware or software. However, this is not the case if Industrial Ethernet is open to all technologies or machines - for example, master-slave machines, where a sensor responds only if the master communicates with it. According to Müller, automation experts are not too keen on this kind of set-up due to the reliance on proprietary protocols which could exclude the use of standard PCs. This is one of the difficulties that Ethernet encounters with respect to real-time capability and the processing of TPC/IP services. Real-time means, for instance, micro-second or milli-second communication with sensors with unlimited determinants.

A further difficulty that needs to be addressed is the performance of Ethernet in highly complex entire systems. In this case efficient Ethernet communication could prove problematic. Whereas the parties in Interbus subsystems require neither an IP address nor a DIP switch, users of Ethernet need a MAC address, an IP address and a name, which is clearly more complicated. Müller believes that this alone means that in future "a kind of peaceful coexistence between field bus systems and Industrial Ethernet" is the most likely scenario.

This article was written and provided by HANNOVER MESSE.

The world’s leading exhibition of industrial technology takes place from 24 to 28 April in Hannover. The program for 2006 consists of the following flagship trade shows: INTERKAMA+, Factory Automation, Industrial Building Automation, Energy, Pipeline Technology, Subcontracting, Digital Factory, Industrial Facility Management & Services, MicroTechnology and Research & Technology. The featured Partner Country at HANNOVER MESSE 2006 is India, one of the world’s fastest-growing markets.

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