Ethernet adoption in process automation to double by 2016

12 June 2013

According to a new study from IMS Research – now part of IHS Inc – Ethernet nodes in process industries are set to almost double from 2011 to 2016, as the technology increasingly challenges fieldbus for leadership in the industrial networking market.

Industrial Ethernet nodes in process industries are projected to rise to 8.7 million units in 2016, up 96% from 4.4 million in 2011. This means that industrial Ethernet will account for 45% of networked nodes connected in process industries in 2016, up from 39% in 2011. Such growth will come at the expense of fieldbus, anticipated to expand at a rate of 51% during the same five-year period.

“The process industry is renowned for being slow to adopt new technology,” said Tom Moore, analyst for industrial Ethernet and fieldbus technologies at IHS. “However, in some key areas, industrial Ethernet adoption is beginning to overtake fieldbus as the mainstream networking technology.”

A good example is within the process sector is safety. Although not always driven by compulsory legislation, process safety systems are updated fairly regularly by companies that want to ensure operator safety and maximise line up-time. This shorter life cycle means that new technologies can break into the market more quickly and are easier to implement, as there is greater opportunity for refreshing the network upon refitting.

“There is also a move to greater connectivity,” continued Moore. “Networking is becoming more of a commodity, which means that remote monitoring and control is more accessible. This is also true of discrete automation.

Process components and systems, such as remote terminal units and distributed control systems, are already widely networked. Approximately 95% of new-unit shipments are projected to be network enabled in 2016, up from 90% in 2011. “The increase is projected to be relatively slow, but is likely to reach 100%. Network-enabling products are now almost seen as a commodity and are expected by the process industry. As networking ability increases, the number of average nodes is also increasing. This enables the use of more elaborate networks and topologies,” Moore said.

The use of industrial Ethernet is expected to grow across industrial automation. IHS projects a compound annual growth rate of just north of 14% to 2016 for new process-automation networked nodes. The growth rate is well above that for new fieldbus nodes, envisioned to be less than 9% to 2016.

Fieldbus, does still have some advantages. HART, for example, a big part of process industries, is able to overlay signals on 4-20mA wiring, a major advantage for those with existing infrastructure. There is also the sizable legacy of some fieldbus solutions, which means that a large amount of machinery still uses older protocols.

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