CC-Link and the Gateway to China

18 May 2012

Suzanne Gill reports on a recent webinar, presented by John Browett, acting general manager of the CC-Link Partner Association for Europe, explaining the benefits that CC-Link can offer those looking to export to China.

The Gateway 2 China (G2C) programme being offered by the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) has been designed to allow European manufacturers to more easily enter the Chinese market. Browett began the presentation with an overview of CC-Link.

CC-Link is an open network for automation that offers both Ethernet (CC-Link IE) and fieldbus (CC-Link) versions. Importantly, for the G2C programme, it is also considered to be a de-facto standard in many Asian industries, partly due no doubt to the fact that it was originally developed in 1997 by Mitsubishi for use with its own systems, before becoming an open network in 2000.

CC-Link IE consists of two main levels, both of which use Gigabit Ethernet technology – CC-Link IE Control is used to share information between controllers and below that CC-Link IE Field is used to link controllers to field devices. At the top of the pyramid the network is able to link to MES or ERP systems.

The CC Link fieldbus is a RS 485-based technology used for standard applications linking sensors and actuators; CC-Link Safety is SIL 3 certified for safety critical applications; and CC-Link/LT is a lower level, bit-bus type network for the economical connection of simple digital devices.

Ten years ago the technology was predominantly used in the Japanese market. More recently, however, it has become globally accepted and today Japan only accounts for around one-third of partner membership and there are almost nine million devices installed worldwide.

Browett went on to discuss the opportunities in the Chinese market. The region is continuing to grow in economic strength and currently has the World’s fastest growing economy. It is also the largest market for automotive and information and communications technology (ICT). In recent years the demand for automobiles in China has reached around 13 million vehicles and it is currently the World’s largest consumer of iron, steel coal and cement.

China’s Five-Year Plans are also important, and have been implemented by the Chinese Government for many years. The latest plan, which runs from 2011 to 2015 includes key objectives of improving and promoting manufacturing by encouraging equipment replacement and upgrade. This will, of course, result in a strong demand for automation technology.
In the Asian market there are several industries where CC-Link already has a dominant presence, and it is a key enabling technology for companies considering expanding into the region. The technology itself is also relatively simple to implement, offering a simple technology development pathway.

Predicting growth
In a 2009 report ‘The World Market for Industrial Networking,’ IMS Research predicted a higher growth rate for CC-Link than many of its competitors. The technology is being used by many Asian companies who are already in the process of setting up manufacturing facilities in the Chinese market. So, when they move to China there is a high likelihood that they will be taking CC-Link with them, further strengthening the market position and acceptance of the protocol in the Chinese market.

The Asian automotive industry, for example, is a big user of CC-Link technology. Browett showed a chart that pointed to CC-Link having a 58% share of network technology usage in the Asian automotive industry and a 35% network technology usage share of the tyre production industry in the region. Many of these companies are currently looking at setting up production facilities in China to meet the growing demand from consumers in the region.
Even more impressive are the figures quoted for the level of adoption in the Asian market for the production of flat panel displays, where CC-Link boasts an 85% share of network technology usage.

Moving onto the subject of Standards, Browett highlighted the Chinese Government’s GB/T standards, which demonstrate that a technology meets the Chinese Government’s requirements for a variety of industries. CC-Link is already certified to two different GB/T standards in the Chinese market.

The development process for CC-Link is said to be simple as it is based on familiar, RS-485 or IEEE 802.3, technology and has proven reference designs that can shorten development times and assist conformance testing. A detailed knowledge of the protocol itself is not required as this is handled by an ASIC.

Getting devices to work is also simple as the ASIC has the technology built-in to avoid complex interrupts or fragmented handling of data. Operating a device on the network – rather than having complex object dictionaries or mapping – it uses a simple shared memory model which means that communication between stations on the network is simpler than with some other technologies.

Support in China
Part of the current G2C offering is support for manufacturers wanting to move into China. CC-Link and its key partners have over 20 offices which are able to provide support locally.
The programme itself divides into two parts – product development support and marketing support in China. The CLPA can offer local, free of charge product development support. Companies which join the programme will also receive free of charge development samples, providing them with a kit of parts that includes all the necessary devices to develop CC-Link products.

3M, one of the CLPA board members, is also offering development support in the form of free cable – product development and preparation for conformance testing cable is essential to build sample networks and undertake testing.

Marketing support for members of the programme includes free of charge print media advertising in the region in key Chinese publications as well as on-line promotion via the most well-read automation websites. It will also offer inclusion of products in regular roadshows and event participation throughout China, which is already undertaken by CLPA in the region. Webinar participation and inclusion in CLPA-China’s existing advertising promotions is also being offered free of charge.

Finally, Asian partner, Mitsubishi Electric, is offering the ability to visit facilities which it operates in China. Members of the programme will also receive preferential pricing on development hardware from third-party companies such as Hilscher and HMS.

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