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Chip ‘will speed move to the Industrial Internet of Things’

30 January, 2014

The US-based control networking specialist Echelon has announced a chip designed to provide flexible, cost-effective connections for communities of devices in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The IP-enabled, multi-protocol, multi-drop FT 6050 system-on-chip (SoC) is part of Echelon's IzoT platform for the IIoT, the next generation of the industrial control platform based on Echelon's ISO-standard Free Topology (FT) architecture.

Echelon argues that its technology offers advantages over the RS-485 and Ethernet systems that currently dominate wired industrial communications. It says that FT is more reliable than RS-485, costs less than Ethernet, and offers more topology flexibility than either of them.

The company believes that wired connections will persist in industrial environments because of: their reliability, even in harsh environments; their ability to operate without human interaction; their convenient connectivity configurations, including multi-drop wiring; and their hardened security.

But it argues that both RS-485 and Ethernet present challenges for industrial applications, especially when moving to IP. RS-485 has a low noise immunity which compromises its reliability, is prone to wiring misconfigurations, and requires a companion processor to handle the constant interrupts from an IP network, adding to the cost of the device. Ethernet has high cost per node and is inappropriate for the unstructured and multi-drop topologies which are the most common in industrial environments

“With almost a billion devices currently connected to control networks in industrial settings, application designers are seeking an effective, safe and simple migration path to the IIoT,” says Ron Sege, Echelon’s chairman and CEO. “Echelon's IzoT platform and new FT 6050 SoC let companies build IIoT solutions that interoperate with existing devices while also supporting new IP-enabled ones – which reduces their SKU counts, broadens application support and lets them get their products to market more quickly and safely.”

The multiprotocol IzoT software running on the chip offers a fast, low-risk path to market for IIoT products that are both compatible with a variety of communications, transport and control networking standards.

Typical wiring topologies supported by Echelon's Free Topology technology

The chip “will make it easier and more cost-effective for both existing and new industrial devices to join the burgeoning IIoT—while providing industrial-grade reliability and the maturity of proven industrial control networking protocols such as LonWorks," says Varun Nagaraj, Echelon’s senior vice-president and general manager for the IoT. “The FT 6050 is designed to provide a better wired alternative than either RS-485 or Ethernet for industrial applications that can benefit from IP enablement. Quite simply, the FT 6050 is the best chip for IP-based multi-drop wired industrial communications.”

The chip integrates a four-processor core with an FT transceiver. Each core has a dedicated role: interrupt handling; support for upper- and lower-level protocols; and support for the application itself. This allows industrial developers to run the same application with or without IP enabled, and using their preferred communications protocols such as Modbus, the BACnet building automation protocol or Echelon’s LonWorks.

“While we believe that FT is the ideal choice for wired connectivity and the FT 6050 is the best single chip option for developing a wired IIoT device, we also recognise that developers need a range of wired and wireless options,” says Nagaraj. “Consequently, we have designed our IzoT platform to span multiple link choices. Echelon's IzoT platform can be used to develop IIoT devices that can run on any processor and use any underlying communication options. Developers using the IzoT platform as their ubiquitous development environment can choose FT, RS-485, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or other wireless choices as appropriate for specific applications.”

Echelon was a pioneer in developing open-standard control networking platforms and has been particularly successful in lighting control and building automation sectors. More than 100 million Echelon-powered devices are now installed worldwide.

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