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An open future – the move to standard Ethernet

17 April 2013

In the past, Ethernet was not considered suitable for high performance machine control, leading to the design of closed chipsets by many automation vendors, effectively creating their own versions of Ethernet, unable to communicate with other systems. Things are now changing.

In recent years, the growing capabilities and popularity of Ethernet across a range of industries such as financial services has caused the adoption of industry standards like IEEE 1588 and has driven chip makers to provide more competitive components.

When developing a new range of drives Control Techniques, an Emerson Industrial Automation company, made an early decision to use standard Ethernet in order to achieve its goal of constructing a truly open creation environment for machine builders.

Tom Alexander, vice president of technology at Control Techniques, explains: “The industrial automation market today is largely based around ‘closed’ systems in which it is difficult to integrate components from different suppliers and which often require specialist training to operate. Closed systems can trap machine builders into having to buy all their products from a single company – whether they want to or not. A truly ‘open’ creation environment would follow an accepted set of industry-wide standards to make high-performance machines as easy to build and operate as possible.

“Standard Ethernet is the right choice for the future of automation because it holds the key to open automation systems that will give machine builders a flexible and intuitive environment for programming while avoiding ‘Fieldbus wars’. In the very near future, we will move from 100 megabit Ethernet to gigabit and then beyond. Ultimately, performance of Ethernet networks simply will not be an issue. Networks will provide far greater speed and bandwidth than any user could ever require.”

The benefits of Ethernet to machine builders
Ethernet provides machine builders and manufacturers with real benefits. In particular, it allows them to maximise machine productivity because it is suitable for both complete machine automation and demanding synchronised motion functions. Additionally, Ethernet allows access to a massive choice of network monitoring and diagnostics tools and will also ensure that customers have access to future developments in IT based industries where billions of nodes are installed.

Alexander continues: “Having an unlimited number of nodes is a key feature for me. With unlimited nodes you can configure Ethernet so it is robust, flexible and ubiquitous.”

Control Techniques’ intelligent machine architecture uses standard Ethernet for communication across drives, I/O, HMIs, PLCs and other industrial devices. The new Unidrive M drive range uses open protocols such as TCP/ IP and UDP, delivering good performance, including network synchronisation of less than 1µs as well as 250µs cycle time for demanding motion applications.

Avoiding fieldbus wars
Synchronising data accurately and quickly is a vital requirement for automation systems. Being forced to choose a closed fieldbus is a particular problem for manufacturers and choosing the wrong fieldbus can be an expensive mistake.

Alexander says: “Fortunately there are many industries outside industrial automation that now depend on synchronised data. This is causing a clearly discernible trend toward fieldbus convergence around Ethernet and new industrial standards such as IEEE 1588. Standard Ethernet allows you to make the right choice for the future of your automation system, enabling multiple protocols to operate simultaneously on a common platform and allowing far greater specialisation of protocols to drive the performance required.

“In the future people will just purchase systems without having to think about which network type to select – in the same way that they do with personal computers today.”

Control Techniques’ advanced new real time machine control protocol uses standard Ethernet TCP/IP and UDP to provide an efficient and compact message structure that frees up Ethernet network bandwidth and minimises network loading, as well as supporting multiple other protocols simultaneously, such as Ethernet/IP, PROFINET and Modbus TCP/IP. This allows Unidrive M models to talk directly to each other while also supporting communications to a traditional machine controller.

Machine Control Studio, an intuitive environment that allows machine builders to program Unidrive M’s new automation and motion control features and provides complete control across a machine, is powered by CODESYS, open software for programmable machine control that has become the default standard for the automation industry. The programming environment is compliant with the industry standard IEC 61131-3 programming languages, meaning that it is familiar, fast and easy to use for control engineers around the world, speeding up development of new machines and making it easier to recruit skilled engineers.

The factories of the future
Alexander continues: “Open standards enable faster innovation by allowing automation suppliers to work together to share and build on new advances. Furthermore, if industrial automation companies adopt the standards that prevail in the maturing worlds of IT and computing, then we can leverage the incredible speed of innovation that is common in these adjacent industries. Ultimately, open standards could accelerate industrial automation technologies at a rate never seen before.

“A great example of the power of open systems is SMS text messaging. For many years, texts could only be sent within your own mobile network and were relatively little used. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that full cross network compatibility was achieved. After that texts became one of the most utilised forms of communication in the world.

“The factories of the future will be ‘smart’ factories in which open automation systems will be fundamental. Smart factories will eventually be totally interconnected, with all components and departments communicating electronically, to ensure that productivity is as responsive, flexible and efficient as possible. Ultimately, integrated user interfaces will mean that there is less need to acquire specialist knowledge to control individual components. Coupled with the use of web-based HMIs at a component level (which can be accessed from many different places and which don’t require specialist software to access data), access to component knowledge will be greatly improved.

“While Control Techniques will obviously continue to support fieldbus networks such as EtherCAT, PROFIBUS, DeviceNet and CANopen, Unidrive M has been designed with the factories of the future in mind. Using our new open Ethernet protocol with its integrated web server, we can give users the choice to define or even remove the automation hierarchy, potentially allowing all components in a system to talk directly to each other: a highly significant step on the route toward smart manufacturing.”


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