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Schneider climbs aboard the Ethernet/IP bandwagon

09 May, 2007

The Ethernet/IP networking technology has received a major boost with the announcement that Schneider Electric is adopting the technology as a foundation for its industrial networking strategy. The company is also becoming one of the five "principal" members of ODVA, the organisation that promotes and develops networks based on Ethernet/IP. Together, the principal members – which include Omron, Rockwell, Eaton and Cisco – will now account for an estimated 36% of the global PLC market.

At the same time, ODVA has announced that it is extending its CIP (Common Information Protocol) specification to provide compatibility with Modbus/TCP, of which Schneider is the leading supplier and supporter. According to a recent study by the ARC Advisory group, Ethernet/IP and Modbus/TCP are the world’s two most popular industrial Ethernet protocols, accounting for more than 50% of the global market.

"This is a big development in the automation industry," comments ARC senior analyst, Harry Forbes. "It is unusual to see several automation majors joining in such close collaboration, especially in a strategic area such as industrial Ethernet.

"Automation users of Modbus/TCP can look forward to benefiting from CIP networks," he adds. "Schneider Electric products will also benefit from the many capabilities of CIP, but end-users will be the real winners here because future CIP networks will offer an even broader range of choice."

The extension to the CIP specification will allow existing Modbus/TCP users to adopt the CIP family of networks – which includes DeviceNet, ControlNet, and the new CompoNet sensor-actuator network – while protecting their investments in Modbus/TCP products.

Schneider’s decision is thought to have been driven by its frustration at the large number of industrial Ethernet protocols which, it believes, is hampering the growth of the market. More than a dozen versions of Ethernet have been submitted to the IEC for standardisation Schneider also objects to Ethernet-based systems that require proprietary chips or protocol stacks. It believes that there is a need to consolidate on fewer protocols, based on open standards.

"Our customers want the interoperability and seamless integration of the factory-floor that networks using standard, unmodified Ethernet can provide, with one network for control, information, configuration, safety, synchronisation and motion," explains Adrien Scolé, senior vice-president for innovation in Schneider’s automation business. "Ethernet/IP is the answer to meeting our customers’ needs by providing compatibility with existing Modbus/TCP products and systems, in combination with the complete suite of services contained in CIP.

Scolé adds that Schneider is "eager to team with ODVA to help make Ethernet/IP the most widely used industrial network".

ODVA is creating a Modbus integration working group with the aim of publishing the extended version of the CIP specification by the end of this year. In early 2008, it will update its conformance tests to include Modbus and expects the first Ethernet/IP products with integrated Modbus translation functions to be available by the end of 2008. Schneider says it plans to have its next generation of Ethernet/IP products, which can connect to existing Modbus/TCP devices, next year.

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