Ethernet, safety panel discussions at Hannover Fair

30 April 2008

Two panel discussions at Hannover Fair provided a chance for press and attendees to interact with a variety of global industry representatives on trends and developments surrounding industrial Ethernet technologies and plant safety issues. The panels were hosted by Molex.

ethernet cable
ethernet cable

The industrial Ethernet panel principally concentrated on recent developments related to end-user initiatives with the technology and associated deployment issues. Panel members included Sundar Balu from Molex, Doug McEldowney from ODVA, Viktor Schiffer from Rockwell Automation, Thomas Stühler from Sick AG, Wojtek Urnabski from Lenze, and Klaus Wagner from FANUC Robotics.

'End users dream of having one network to connect all their devices and systems,' said Urnabski. 'Ethernet enables that possibility. The increasing level of agreement in industry around having the plant’s physical communication layer on Ethernet is a big step toward delivering on this dream of a one plant network.'

Moving to a single network in the plant would not only be helpful to the end-user, but it would reduce development costs for suppliers as well, added Wagner. 'But I don’t see that happening,' he said, 'continued certification of fieldbus integration with Ethernet will be the path followed for some time.'

Though some concerns around Ethernet’s deterministic capabilities persist, McEldowney pointed out that if questions surrounding determinism are framed more appropriately as: 'Can Ethernet perform at the levels required by the customer?' The answer will be 'yes' more often times than not. 'You can debate determinism, but what it really comes down to is customer requirements,' he said. 'And Ethernet can adequately address that in most cases.'

Determinism issues aside, the principal driver of Ethernet adoption continues to be legacy system changeover, said Balu. 'Ethernet's ability to integrate multiple operations is leading to more devices being included in the greater manufacturing network,' he said. 'And then there's the interest behind connecting all these plant devices with manufacturing execution systems through Ethernet.' As a result, Ethernet presents a great deal of communications management value to all levels of the plant, and that's why it remains such a widely discussed topic, he said.

Plant safety
Examining the rising level of global interest in plant safety issues were Dean Donnelly from Molex, Andreas Höll from Sick AG, Doug McEldowney from ODVA, Richard Piggin from Rockwell Automation, Wojtec Urnabski from Lenze, and Klaus Wagner from FANUC Robotics.

'Beyond regulatory and personnel issues, the consolidation of industrial networks is one of the main reasons for the increased interest in safety,' said Donnelly. 'The reductions in costs, which have been introduced through the ability to have safety functions piggyback on existing plant systems has made it an attractive solution for suppliers to provide and easier for end users to implement.'

For machine manufacturers, the current trend in 'piggybacking' safety on existing systems is 'to have embedded hardware address the safety protocols, thereby creating a safe environment around the machine,' said Wagner.

Ethernet has the potential to help in this area, according to Donnelly. 'Though more time is needed to make such a product available, supplier investment in applications to handle safety over Ethernet presents a huge opportunity to build efficiencies not only in the machines provided, but in the manufacturing operations in which they are deployed.'

Internationally, discussions related to global standards integration are reported to be picking up steam.

'China and Korea are getting more involved in IEC safety standards development,' said Piggin, 'and that is helping drive deeper discussions around the integration of global safety standards.'
--David Greenfield, Control Engineering

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