Network flexibility for device manufacturers

14 May 2013

At a UK press event, to introduce the Chip, Brick, Module (CBM) Concept for its Anybus CompactCom offering, David Folley of HMS, offered details of some interesting global networking usage trends and figures identified by the company.

A total of 32 million new fieldbus and Ethernet nodes were installed in 2011 in the factory automation environment. Fieldbuses are still the most popular technology, with 74% of all customers still buying fieldbus devices rather than Ethernet. “This comes down to the fact that a lot of low-technology products, such as sensors and weighscales, do not currently have sufficient processing power or memory capacity to connect to Ethernet networks,” said Folley. “In reality, it is a hard process to move all automation devices into the Ethernet market. Yet, despite this the Ethernet market is expanding.”

An area of growth has been identified by the company for network devices in servos and drives. Folley explains why: “Because of the speed of Ethernet, both the cables and the protocols, and how they manage data servos, which have traditionally had their own specialist networks to meet the required response times, are now starting to become more attractive to ‘open’ protocols.”

HMS has also identified some interesting networking technology trends. Today, most end-users, such as automotive manufacturers, would prefer to have a single network to support, for ease of maintenance. This is leading to a call to integrate solutions together into a single platform – such as safety, energy, and security. “This may not be a realistic request yet, but at the rate networks are developing we are sure that there will soon be a possibility to have a single platform to service all these data needs,” said Folley.

HMS believes that within the next five years, Ethernet will become the dominant network in many industries. The technology challenges of linking everything together will need to be overcome first, making it necessary to find a solution that can integrate safety and deterministic real-time systems. The majority of sensors will also soon all be Ethernet enabled. However, it should be remembered that for some time to come existing facilities will still include a great deal of legacy equipment that also needs to be connected.

HMS has come up with a concept to deal with all requirements, with its CBM concept – Chip, Brick, Module. The new Anybus CompactCom concept provides device manufacturers with full solution flexibility for all major fieldbus and Industrial Ethernet applications, including high performance, real-time, synchronisation, and multiple form factors.

The CompactCom Chip solution has been introduced because standard module devices are often too large to fit into ever shrinking devices. The chip-based solution has a very small frame size, allowing it to be integrated into very small sensor products, providing a full network connectivity solution.

The new modular CompactCom brick takes this idea a step further, allowing customers to add a board to their product to take care of all the fieldbus or Ethernet connectivity, while still allowing for the simple addition of a variety of different network connectors, as required.
The CompactCom module, however, remains the core of the company’s product. With new Anybus NP40 chips now being used in the modules to make it more flexible to use the plug and play devices, providing a complete and interchangeable communication module.

The new NP40 chip can support several different Industrial Ethernet and Fieldbus networks by simply downloading new firmware, reducing systems development time as there is no need for redevelopment for each additional network. In use the new chip is said to exhibit virtually zero delay in passing signals between the network and host Application Programming Interface, which makes it suitable for applications that require high level synchronisation or motion profiles.

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