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Industrial Ethernet take-up remains slow
Published:  01 July, 2001

Industrial Ethernet take-up remains slow

The use of Ethernet at device or I/O level is still at the "early adopter" stage, at best, says a new survey*. "The level of rhetoric devoted to this issue vastly exceeds the amount of real-world shipments," the ARC Advisory Group reports.

"Widespread penetration at the device level of the automation hierarchy will be a key determinant of whether industrial Ethernet emerges as a common network architecture applied throughout the manufacturing enterprise," ARC suggests.

The report`s author, Chantal Polsonetti, says that migration of Ethernet to the lower levels of the hierarchy "will be tempered by the cost of the Ethernet interface, relative to the cost of the end device". As a result, many suppliers are not yet offering low-level Ethernet devices.

ARC says that the perceived shortcoming of Ethernet in automation applications - such as doubts over its ruggedness, determinism, noise immunity, and intrinsically safe operation - have stalled its migration onto the factory floor. The lack of industrially hardened components and connectors has exacerbated this. However, ARC reports that many of the criticisms are being addressed and that real-world installations are now operating successfully.

Another major worry for potential users is the lack of standardisation of Ethernet network protocols. Although Ethernet is an international standard, IEEE 802.3 specifies only the physical and datalink layers of the seven-layer network stack. ARC predicts that the process industries will agree on a single standard - Foundation Fieldbus HSE - but reports that on the discrete side of the automation business, major suppliers have already lined up in different camps.

While the IAONA organisation is trying to ensure interoperability between the two main camps, Ethernet/IP and iDA, "the prospect of a scattered field remains".

Nevertheless, ARC is forecasting that the market will grow from just over 1m nodes last year, to almost 5m by 2005.

The Open DeviceNet Vendor Association (ODVA) has announced that more than 80 suppliers, including Rockwell, Omron, and Cutler-Hammer, are developing hardware and software products that support its Ethernet/IP specification. The ODVA expects many of these products to become available in the second half of this year.

* Ethernet at the Device Level Worldwide Outlook. Price $5,500. Details on the ARC Web site.

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