Ethernet drives growth in industrial networking

19 February 2009

Last year VDC Research, in conjunction with Control Engineering Europe, conducted a worldwide survey into industrial networking.

Current & Forecast Worldwide Shipments of Wireline Industrial Networking Infrastructure Products, Overall and With Ethernet Connectivity ($ in millions)
Current & Forecast Worldwide Shipments of Wireline Industrial Networking Infrastructure Products, Overall and With Ethernet Connectivity ($ in millions)

In a recently released report, titled Industrial Networking Global Market Intelligence Service the research firm forecasts that the market for industrial infrastructure wireline networking products will be worth $5.6 billion (£3.8 billion) in 2012.

VDC discovered that the bulk of this market is in products with Ethernet connectivity. Shipment of these exceeded $1.2 billion in 2007, and VDC forecasts shipments will increase at a 28.5% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) to over $4.5 billion in 2012. The Ethernet share, which was approximately 69% in 2007, is expected to exceed 80% in 2012.

Familiarity with Ethernet by both IT managers, and process control engineers, along with overall trust in Ethernet, have, according to VDC, encouraged increasing numbers of suppliers to develop products with Ethernet connectivity. The organisation also claims increasing competition has led to decreasing prices of Ethernet products, thus encouraging users to consider Ethernet as their wireline networking infrastructure solution for industrial facilities.

Although Ethernet is gaining market share, VDC does not see this as a strict displacement of the protocols of other wireline buses/networks. The organisation says there are many application layer protocols used with Ethernet networks. The reports says: “Some of the most popular for industrial use are ones adopted from the standard industrial buses/networks. Most of the major industrial bus/network organisations have introduced versions of their application layer protocols for Ethernet networks. Examples of these include Ethernet/IP, Foundation Fieldbus HSE, Modbus TCP, and PROFINET.”

The industrial networking infrastructure market for Ethernet products is expected to sustain a substantial growth rate over the next four years. However, there is growing competition from wireless networks, which will become more substantial over a longer time period. It is interesting that the growing acceptance of Ethernet for infrastructure use is helping promote wireless acceptance, as Wireless Ethernet networks account for the majority of wireless networking products for industrial infrastructure use.

However, concluded the report, at least at present, many users who seek plant floor automation often find wireline networking infrastructure products to be more reliable than wireless. Interference free performance with high reliability and security is sought, and end users more commonly feel wireline products best guarantee this.

VDC’s guide to advantages of Ethernet-based networks
 Commercial-grade products – Hardened and ruggedised infrastructure products are not needed for all environments in industrial facilities. The availability of Ethernet commercial-grade products allows users installation flexibility, at more attractive prices.

 Company-wide uniformity – Ethernet is commonly used in the office and also the plant floor – saving on infrastructure, training, support and other costs associated with supporting multiple network protocols.

 Easy integration with Internet/Intranets – Ethernet’s TCP/IP and other protocols extend control and monitoring capabilities to remote locations without the use of gateways.

 High-Speed and wide bandwidth – Ethernet is available in 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps, and 1 Gbps data rates; Ethernet networks can be implemented at the appropriate bandwidth to enable quick response times and/or transfer of large files.

 Lower cost connectivity – As shipments of networking products with Ethernet connectivity increase, the cost of the connecting devices and cabling for these is decreasing. Even when using industrial-grade connectors and cables, the cost for these using Ethernet is less than that of other open standard and proprietary buses/networks.

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