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Motion control is the fastest-growing use of industrial Ethernet

13 March, 2013

Motion controls and drives are the fastest-growing application area for Ethernet in the industrial sector, according to a new study from IMS Research, now part of IHS, which forecasts that the use of Ethernet in motion applications will more than triple between 2011 and 2016.

“Ethernet – particularly certain industrial variants – is very well suited to drive and motion control applications,” points out IHS’s discrete automation analyst, Tom Moore. “The growing number of Ethernet protocols, which are high-speed, deterministic and low jitter, mean its application has never been easier. Some of the most suitable protocols have forecast annual growth rates exceeding 30% to 2016”.

The rate of adoption of Ethernet is set to outstrip that of fieldbus technologies in almost all industrial applications over the coming decade. “In 10 to 15 years,” Moore predicts, “Ethernet will have replaced fieldbus as the mainstream networking technology for motor control products. This can only be good for the unification and simplification of networking solutions, driving down costs and increasing up-time.”

In 2011, fieldbus protocols still dominated new motion control node connections, with Ethernet accounting for around 1.8 million new motion control nodes – about 12% of the total. By 2016, new Ethernet nodes will account for more than 20% of all new networked motor control products, according to IHS. It is gaining ground rapidly in a market that is well known for being reserved and slow to adopt new technology, the market analyst adds.

“Part of the transition to Ethernet is due to the protocols available – such as Profinet, Ethernet/IP, Powerlink and EtherCat ­– which are all very well suited to motor control applications,” says Moore. “In particular, EtherCat is well known for very high speed data transmission and low response times. Its adoption is forecast to grow very strongly to 2016, especially as its member count continues to increase.”

Networking, however, isn’t just about the technology or protocols on offer; it is about the equipment itself. Nodes – the connections to the higher network – are set to increase and this is being driven partly by the increasing number of ports per device. This has accelerated the growth rate of networking technologies. “The increase in node count has come about for several reasons,” Moore remarks. “More and more products are being released with the ability to daisy-chain, requiring at least two ports.”

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