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EtherCat protocol IP needs no upfront licence fees

12 August, 2013

The Californian electronics developer Altera and the German automation software developer Softing have announced the availability of a verified EtherCat protocol IP (intellectual property) for FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays) that gives field device manufacturers a quick and low-cost way to implement interoperable industrial Ethernet systems without lengthy negotiations, up-front licensing fees, or per-unit royalties.

Altera says that the new Access IP licensing structure – developed in conjunction with Softing and the EtherCat Technology Group (ETG) – will simplify the integration of FPGA-based industrial Ethernet designs. Access IP combines Softing’s IP core and software stack with an Altera FPGA.

“Customers have wanted to leverage the performance of the EtherCat protocol IP in the FPGA for some time, but have always been hampered by licensing costs,” says Brian Jentz, director of Altera’s industrial business. “By removing that barrier, Altera customers can leverage the performance and integrate a discrete EtherCat device in an existing FPGA with confidence and minimum effort.”

The protocol IP and software stack can both be implemented on an FPGA using programmable logic and a soft embedded processor. In this way, a board incorporating a single FPGA can work with various protocols without needing any hardware modifications. The FPGA can also be used to implement various industrial automation functions, such as sensor interfaces, accelerators and custom control logic, as well as providing communication functions.

“The ETG is excited that Altera now provides the fast-growing EtherCat protocol to customers designing systems with FPGAs via a new and unique licensing strategy,” says the ETG’s executive director, Martin Rostan. “As EtherCat adoption grows, this facilitates efficient and easy access to our technology.”

Industrial Ethernet protocols can now be implemented on FPGAs without upfront fees

Customers can download the entire EtherCat protocol IP including the software stack from Softing. The protocol IP and reference designs are hardware tested on Altera’s Industrial Networking Kit (INK) and on Softing’s FPGA RTEM Cyclone III kit.

As well as the EtherCat version, there are also versions for Profinet RT/IRT and Ethernet Powerlink and others are being developed.

“Our customers are very interested in the integration of industrial Ethernet using FPGA technology”, says Frank Iwanitz, Softing’s product manager for industrial Ethernet. “We now offer easy access to leading industrial Ethernet protocols and give field device manufacturers an easy way to integrate FPGA-based industrial Ethernet technologies.”




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