EtherCAT's Secret of Success

  • September 29, 2011
  • Feature
September 2011
By Martin Rostan, Executive Director of EtherCAT Technology Group
Here at the EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG) we are often asked: why is EtherCAT so successful? There is no giant marketing machine behind it, nor is EtherCAT the successor to a market leading fieldbus system – and yet EtherCAT enjoys  an outstanding adoption rate worldwide, competes for global market leadership with EtherNet/IP and PROFINET, and the ETG has become the world’s largest fieldbus organization. The secret to this success is the technology itself: EtherCAT is increasingly the engineers’ choice. As a result of its unique functional principle – we call it processing “on the fly” – the technology provides a unique and convincing combination of features: it is not only the fastest Industrial Ethernet with the most flexible topology, it is also much simpler to plan, install, use, and maintain, provides comprehensive diagnostic functionality, supports the Internet protocols, and last but not least, meets or even undercuts the cost levels of the legacy fieldbus systems.
The ETG does not publish node counts, which is why we are typically underreported by the market research firms. Frankly, we do not publish these figures, because we do not know them: ETG members are not required to report (and make up) how many devices they have sold. However, we do know how many companies have implemented EtherCAT in their products or have publicly announced to do so: over 90 drive vendors, over 60 I/O device vendors, and over 130 controller vendors support EtherCAT, providing the most outstanding adoption rate in the industry. The large number of controller – or master – vendors is particularly remarkable: those companies have embraced EtherCAT as their overall system bus, not just as an added bus system to enhance their component business.
The ETG meanwhile has over 1750 member companies from 52 countries, and continues to grow at an average rate of 300 new members every 12 months. The country with the largest membership is Germany, where the technology originated, followed by the United States, Japan and China. The ETG maintains local offices in all these countries as well as in Korea. Over 200 people attended the recent regional member meetings in Japan and Korea, indicating the exceptional support that EtherCAT now enjoys in Asia.
Another boost for the EtherCAT Technology comes with the new ARM-based Sitara chips from Texas Instruments (TI). TI announced that they have decided to integrate an EtherCAT interface in this and further microprocessor product lines, with the first devices becoming available a few weeks from the posting of this article. This milestone makes EtherCAT the first Industrial Ethernet technology supported by standard microprocessors, turning it into a mainstream technology that goes beyond the traditional automation world. These developments underline the openness of the technology, which is not only an IEC, ISO and a SEMI standard, but it is also supported by several semiconductor manufacturers and implemented on almost every real-time operating system (RTOS) out there. Consequently, EtherCAT is used in many embedded applications as well – ranging from medical systems to mobile machines.
Among the many EtherCAT applications in the U.S., some are pretty exceptional. The water fountain and pyrotechnics show in a popular theme park is using over 1200 submerged EtherCAT nodes with a total of over 35,000 I/O points. The world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope – the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia – is being retrofitted with EtherCAT-enabled controls in order to improve the positioning accuracy. E.A.R.L., the state-of-the-art, EtherCAT-based bowling ball-throwing robot created for the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) is able to simulate any type of bowling style with an accuracy and consistency that no human bowler can achieve. The stage control systems used at performances from Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Justin Timberlake and many more are frequently driven by EtherCAT as are several Broadway shows. That said, it’s not just the “one of a kind” EtherCAT applications that are exciting. The world’s largest packaging machine maker, the world’s largest aircraft company, the world’s largest plastics machine maker, the world’s largest semiconductor tool maker, the world’s largest wind turbine maker, the world’s largest press maker, the world’s largest automotive supplier and several of the top five car, ship, and robot makers all use EtherCAT. These leading companies all benefit from the combination of ultra-high speed performance, virtually unlimited topology options, ease of use and low costs.
The Canadian injection molding machine maker Husky even quantified the benefits gained from EtherCAT implementation: due to the improved control accuracy, Husky was able to inject faster and significantly reduce the part weight variety of the plastic cups and bottles made by their machines. Thus they could reduce the wall thickness without risking rejects and as a result, their customers can save over 100 tons of plastic material per machine per year – a savings of over $150,000 USD.
If you want to join many of the world’s leading companies and learn more about this technology and its benefits, the timing is right:
From October 11 – 20, 2011 the ETG will hold EtherCAT Seminars in Boston (MA), Chicago (IL), Milwaukee (WI), San Diego (CA), Phoenix (AZ) and Denver (CO). These full day technology events are sponsored by Applied Materials, Beckhoff Automation, Elmo Motion Control, Omron, SEW Eurodrive, Sick and Yaskawa. Typical for EtherCAT seminars, the agenda focuses on the technology and its application benefits with numerous practical examples while avoiding simple product presentations. The seminars address system integrators and application engineers alike – everyone in charge of control systems and those who are interested in Ethernet fieldbus technology are welcome. Additional details and the registration form can be accessed here: . Best of all, participation is free of charge.
As one of the most impressive areas of growth, EtherCAT is expanding rapidly in the Semiconductor and Flat Panel Display (FPD) manufacturing industry—including Photovoltaics (PV) and LED manufacturing. Several major equipment and tool makers have adopted EtherCAT, and many Semi component suppliers have their first products readily available. Following requests from our members, the ETG is now establishing the new Semiconductor Technical Working Group (Semi TWG), which will address Semi specific device profiles, installation guidelines, and device tests in order to meet the special requirements of this industry. On October 26 and 27, 2011 there will be the Kick-Off meeting of the ETG Semi TWG –in the Silicon Valley.  For this kick-off meeting ETG has secured the active participation of premium tool makers, in order to ensure that the results meet their requirements; as of today, presentations are scheduled by Applied Materials, LAM Research, Aixtron and Brooks Automation to discuss their expectations regarding EtherCAT-enabled Semi components. Other presentations are being considered by ETG members Tokyo Electron and Dainippon Screen as many Semi-related EtherCAT users and potential users are expected to join this meeting. The Kick-off meeting itself will be preceded by an EtherCAT technology introduction and followed by an EtherCAT implementation seminar. 
So obviously the secret’s out regarding EtherCAT. As such, this October is going to be another busy month for the EtherCAT Technology Group – especially in the U.S.

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