Industrial Ethernet Growing but Fieldbus Remains Dominant

  • November 11, 2013
  • Feature

“Initial estimates are putting Ethernet as becoming the more dominant technology (>50% total market share) in around 15 years, however, it’s quite feasible that this could be closer to 20 years.” Tom Moore IHS Research

By Bill Lydon, Editor

While industrial Ethernet is being adopted at a high rate, the majority of connected nodes (73%) are still traditional networks like DeviceNet, PROFIBUS, Modbus, SERCOS, Foundation Fieldbus, ASi, and others. In order to gain a clearer understanding of the trends, I spoke with Tom Moore, Research Analyst at IHS's Electronics and Media Group. Tom Moore is part of the Industrial Automation Group at IHS and specifically manages the group’s industrial Ethernet, fieldbus and wireless communications research, as well as research into discrete machine-safety. Moore is also responsible for a quarterly tracking service covering industrial communications. Moore is a graduate of The Nottingham Trent University with a degree in Physics.

IMS Research is now part of IHS Electronics & Media. IHS is a leading source of information, insight and analytics in critical areas that shape today’s business landscape. Businesses and governments in more than 165 countries around the globe rely on the comprehensive content, expert independent analysis and flexible delivery methods of IHS to make high-impact decisions and develop strategies. IHS has been in business since 1959 and became a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange in 2005. Headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, USA, IHS is committed to sustainable, profitable growth and employs approximately 8,000 people in 31 countries around the world.

Here is a synopsis of my conversation with Tom Moore:

Bill Lydon:

Your analysis indicates that in 2012 there were 131.4 million industrial connected nodes with 27% utilizing industrial Ethernet. The majority of connected nodes, 73%, are with traditional networks. In my experience, various fieldbus technologies (DeviceNet, PROFIBUS, Modbus, ASi, etc.) are much easier to engineer, install and commission for end devices. Based on this, does your research provide any information on the future forecast for Ethernet relative to fieldbus technologies?

Tom Moore, IHS:

What you say is definitely true. Though some fieldbus systems are much easier to design and implement and we certainly don’t see them disappearing overnight. They are definitely here for the long term but Ethernet does have its advantages. Our forecasts are typically over a 5-6 year period, but this is a very hot topic and so we’ve delved beyond that usual forecast period. Our initial estimates are putting Ethernet as becoming the more dominant technology (>50% total market share) in around 15 years. However, it’s quite feasible that this could be closer to 20 years. The industrial space is always very conservative and it’s certainly no different for Ethernet, despite its advantages in some cases.

Bill Lydon:

Forty-one percent, or 30.7 million, of the industrial Ethernet applications in 2012, were split between pure Ethernet TCP/IP, 18% EtherNet/IP, 9% Modbus TCP/IP, 18% PROFINET, 4% POWERLINK, 5% EtherCAT and 1% SERCOS III. I am curious about the pure TCP/IP nodes. My guess is they are for the growing use of devices not traditionally considered industrial I/O such as mobile HMI devices and video. Does you analysis shed any light on this?

Tom Moore, IHS:

In regards to Ethernet TCP/IP, what we have found is that generally it is used for less critical tasks that don’t require a fully deterministic network. It is perfectly adequate for applications requiring only non-essential data to be sent every few seconds, for example.

Bill Lydon:

Were you able to look at the impact of wireless I/O?

Tom Moore, IHS:

Wireless technologies were analyzed in another report, Wireless Communications in Factory and Process Automation. Wireless I/O was one area analyzed, amongst others. It’s suitable for some applications but as with most wireless technologies people still perceive it to be unreliable. That’s not to say that this is the case, but there’s something about a physical cable that a lot of people seem to prefer! However, a factory environment can be electrically very noisy, so a wireless network does need careful planning and execution.

Bill Lydon:

From your analysis, do you have any idea what applications people are comfortable using wireless for industrial I/O?

Tom Moore, IHS:

There is a definite move to wireless in the non-critical applications at the moment. There is also a significant bias to wireless use in monitoring rather than control applications. Coupling the monitoring capabilities with a battery, or energy harvesting device, means the amount of wiring required can be vastly reduced. There is a downside however. These devices generally need to monitor themselves also (in regards to power levels, degradation etc.), which can create a large amount of data that also needs to be transmitted or collected.

Bill Lydon:

Do you have any indicators about the adoption of industrial Ethernet in different parts of the world?

Tom Moore, IHS:

The research does indeed go deeper than the numbers you quoted. These are global numbers for the entire report, which covers 18 groups of products across the 3 major regions (EMEA, Americas and Asia Pacific). We also analyze the China market separately in another dedicated report. There are some large variations for some product groups, with some being more Ethernet-focused and others being much more widely fieldbus focused. Variations also occur between the regions too, with the difference between EMEA and the Americas being noticeable.

Bill Lydon:

Can you describe the variation observed?

Tom Moore, IHS:

As mentioned, there are some variations between EMEA and the Americas. These stem from the larger vendors in the two regions supporting different networking technologies. These positions are very unlikely to change moving forward so the most hotly contended region at the moment is Asia Pacific. The region is still growing solidly and networking is being implemented along with this growth. Ethernet technologies are at an advantage as more of the business is Greenfield applications, where it makes sense to use a new technology and have a harmonized industrial network. Globally, including wireless to a degree is also much easier in a Greenfield site and can be used for personal area networking or sensors.

Bill Lydon:

Do you have any indication of the acceptance or resistance of industrial Ethernet by machine builders and end users over older fieldbus technologies?

Tom Moore, IHS:

This is not an area that is directly measured by the research that we conduct. However, through speaking to various vendors of industrial automation equipment we have been able to ascertain that there is a level of compliance from machine builders and end users. Some companies are embracing this new technology, others do still prefer their more classic fieldbus technologies, which are reliable, well known by an aging workforce, and most importantly, don’t require large, expensive infrastructure changes. Over time, there will be a change to Ethernet, but with such a conservative market as industrial, this change will be more gradual than some would like. Advertising, workshops, as well as the inclusion of the technology in new product lines means users will eventually move to adopt these newer Ethernet technologies.

Thoughts & Observations

Industrial Ethernet has been growing, leveraging the COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) technology. The majority of industrial Ethernet protocols run on standard unmodified Ethernet including EtherNet/IP, PROFINET (excluding IRT), and Modbus TCP/IP.

When reviewing the IHS numbers, I found the incorporation of standard TCP/IP as 41% of industrial Ethernet installed nodes interesting since I believe today standard TCP/IP is primarily used for operator displays and other non-real-time control functions. When using IHS 2012 Connected Nodes analysis and eliminating standard TCP/IP, the result is:

2012 Installed Nodes Excluding TCP/IP

81% Device networks (DeviceNet, Profibus, Modbus, ASi, etc.)

14% Industrial Ethernet

It is clear the total number of connected controllers, devices (i.e. drives), and sensors is expanding. IHS data illustrates that there more than 11 million industrial Ethernet and fieldbus connections in 2012 and forecasts more than 19 million combined nodes connected by 2016.

A new trend in its initial stages are more powerful controllers being sold that support multiple protocols including standard TCP/IP to communicate manufacturing business information directly to enterprise business systems using standard web services. OPC UA is leveraging standard IP-based communications and becoming more widely adopted. A good example of this was a customer presentation at the 2012 OPC UA Summit where a user described an application using PLC controllers with embedded OPC UA servers to communicate directly with their SAP business systems, providing a direct linkage, improved speed and simplified software maintenance. More Information: OPC UA enables Industrial Information Revolution

Related Article:

Did you enjoy this great article?

Check out our free e-newsletters to read more great articles..