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Sales of industrial Ethernet nodes set to treble

21 January, 2008

The number of industrial Ethernet nodes sold worldwide is likely to treble from over one million last year, to more than three million by 2012. This forecast is contained in a new report from the ARC Advisory Group, which predicts that the industrial Ethernet market will grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.5% over the coming five years.

Ethernet is now making inroads even in demanding applications such as motion control, the report points out, but it is the widespread availability of the technology, rather than its openness, that is driving the market.

For example, Ethernet is even being used in embedded applications, where proprietary protocols are usually applied. In motion controls, for instance, industrial Ethernet is being adopted even in single-vendor applications that donít need the ability to plug-and-play components from different suppliers.

"Standardisation of layers 1 and 2 of the Ethernet stack in IEEE 802.3 makes commercial, off-the-shelf physical-layer products widely available and familiar to potential OEMs and end-users," says the reportís principal author, ARC vice-president, Chantal Polsonetti.

She adds, however, that "as always seems to be the case in the industrial automation segment, each major supplier wants to support their own higher-level protocols. For the customer, this translates to common physical-layer components throughout the enterprise, but multiple competing protocols at the automation layer."

ARC suggests several reasons why manufacturers are finding industrial Ethernet increasingly attractive. A key factor is the availability of a technology that allows enterprises to be integrated vertically using a single network, at least at the lower tiers of the network stack. Ethernet networks are also easy to integrate, configure and reconfigure, and offer the potential for low-cost, flat architectures and for the enterprise-wide exchange of data that can be used for different purposes ranging from process optimisation to asset management.

Another attraction for manufacturers is that there is already a widespread skills base for configuring, installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting Ethernet networks, and this reduces the need for specialised personnel, as well as making training and support easier. Ethernetís global availability and its support by major IT and automation vendors, also helps to make it more attractive than dedicated industrial networks.

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