ODVA Technology Extends Its Reach to the Process Industries

  • June 08, 2015
  • ARC Advisory Group
  • Feature

By Craig Resnick, ARC

ODVA, the organization that supports EtherNet/IP and other information and communication technologies built on the Common Industrial Protocol (CIP), has a well-established position in factory automation for discrete and hybrid manufacturing. In 2013, ODVA announced an initiative called the Optimization of Process Integration (OPI), focused on the information and communication needs of the process industries.

In late 2014, ODVA established a technical working group to develop solutions, based on CIP and EtherNet/IP, for applications in process manufacturing applications. ODVA's actions came about for several reasons: penetration of Ethernet field devices into process applications, end user recognition of the potential value of Ethernet network convergence, and an increasing interest in the process automation market among the growing ODVA membership.

Hybrid Industries Move Toward Network Convergence Ethernet's penetration into manufacturing applications is proceeding much the way that ARC Advisory Group and other analyst firms expected. This has been a "top-down" penetration from the enterprise/IT network to the factory floor, which today is nearly complete. Today, all higher level automation networks are Ethernet and most I/O networks for PLCs and many DCSs also now use Ethernet. Even large manufacturers that have used purpose-built device networks for many years are now converging their network architecture to use industrial Ethernet networks ubiquitously, including for PLC I/O.

The next evolution in adoption of industrial Ethernet is its penetration into process field devices. This transition has already begun. The more complex field measurement devices are prime candidates for Ethernet and many process automation suppliers already support it. One prime example in which industrial Ethernet is already widely used in process automation is flow meters, devices that often combine multiple measurements with compensation calculations and other mathematical functions. These devices are complex and expensive compared to a typical transmitter. Collectively, the applications needs for these devices benefit from the ability to transport large amounts of data, especially as it relates to device management. This makes industrial Ethernet an obvious fit.

Ethernet penetration will begin in those process industry applications that can accept the physical limitations of IEEE-standard Ethernet. The two major limitations are the 100-meter maximum segment length for 100 MB Ethernet and lack of the intrinsic safety-type physical network properties necessary in hazardous environments. Neither limitation is a major concern in "hybrid" manufacturing industries such as food, beverages, and life sciences. These industries also employ many complex flow measurement devices for blending and mixing operations. These manufacturers readily see the advantage of network convergence in such applications and are pushing field device suppliers for broader Ethernet support.

As a result, leading field instrumentation suppliers such as MicroMotion (a unit of Emerson) and Endress+Hauser have already equipped many of their Coriolis flow measurement products with Ethernet interfaces, including EtherNet/IP. Some thought-leading hybrid manufacturers have already become enthusiastic users of these products, standardizing on Ethernet field devices whenever possible. The major advantage they report to ARC is a single automation network and API for both field device and sensor information from the controller. In addition, many applications for device management and calibration can support devices on either Ethernet or a traditional fieldbus interface, so the transition to Ethernet does not disrupt these existing practices.

In the longer term, technology and standards for the Ethernet physical layer will evolve to cover application needs for intrinsic safety combined with network-powered field devices.

Impact of Consolidation of Automation Suppliers

The consolidation of the automation industry is another factor driving convergence. Specialist automation firms are being absorbed into much larger and more generalist firms. Specialized measurement or technology firms are often the target of friendly takeovers by major automation firms. The acquiring firms obtain new and successful technology, while the acquired firms can reach a far larger market as units of a major supplier rather than as small entrepreneurial players. An example of this consolidation is the 2014 acquisition of Invensys by Schneider Electric. As the large suppliers grow even larger through acquisition, they inevitably address wider portions of the total automation market. Schneider Electric's product portfolio, a prime example, has grown to include DCS, process safety shutdown systems, as well as process field measurements.

Industry consortiums, such as ODVA, are finding that their members are more diverse as well. Originally, these organizations formed around a single major supplier focused on a primary industry segment, with many much smaller firms joining in order to participate in the large automation supplier's ecosystem and projects. But today, the ODVA membership is far broader, both in terms of industries served and geographic reach. The membership includes two of the very largest automation suppliers, Rockwell Automation and Schneider Electric, plus Cisco Systems, a leading supplier of networking equipment; Endress+Hauser, a leading supplier of process instrumentation; market leaders in drives, sensing and controls, Bosch Rexroth and Omron; along with approximately 300 other supplier companies that serve a variety of industries.

ODVA Initiative for the Optimizing Process Integration Closely associated with factory automation since its founding, ODVA has now formed a technical working group, known as a Special Interest Group (SIG), to focus on ODVA technology solutions specifically for deploying EtherNet/IP in process manufacturing applications. This is a result of the broadening interests of ODVA members to include all industrial automation including discrete, hybrid and process industries. The developments center around three major areas:

Integrating Field Devices with Industrial Control Systems (ICS) – In the near term, this effort will simplify the integration of automation systems containing both legacy process fieldbuses and Ethernet field devices. In the longer term, ODVA will integrate new Ethernet physical layers for process environments as they are developed.

Integrating Field Devices with Plant Asset Management (PAM) – This area encompasses device management technologies. The area is important because process field devices require complex parameterization and may require periodic recalibration. Monitoring device diagnostics for proper operation is a critical part of the process automation.

Holistic Field-to-Enterprise Communication Architecture – This effort will develop communication architectures that takes advantage of Ethernet convergence to enable more unified "vertical" communication (from device to enterprise) as opposed to the traditional and far more rigid automation "pyramid" communication models.

In undertaking its initiative aimed at optimizing process integration, ODVA will benefit from both technical and market factors. ODVA's industrial Ethernet technology, EtherNet/IP, is unique in that it employs the TCP/IP suite exclusively as a message transport mechanism for its Common Industrial Protocol. TCP/IP has been proven in the factory automation space, despite some challenges in some time-sensitive applications. Process automation is much more concerned with system reliability than sub-millisecond latencies, so riding on TCP/IP is an advantage here. From a market standpoint, ODVA has a growing and diverse membership that has become far more interested in, and knowledgeable about, the process automation business. Finally, thought-leading end users in all manufacturing industries are recognizing the advantages of the converged plantwide Ethernet vision and look to automation suppliers to support it.


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