Industrial Ethernet’s migration into the device or I/O level of the automation network hierarchy signals its continued march downward in the enterprise architecture. The worldwide market for Ethernet-based devices and I/O is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 27.5% over the next five years. The market size totaled over 1 million nodes in 2007 and is forecast to increase to over 3 million nodes by 2012, according to a new ARC Advisory Group study.
Now a staple at the control level of the automation hierarchy, the advent of automation-applicable standards, intelligent implementation strategies and overall improvements in product reliability have made Ethernet a lead option in even the most demanding motion control applications. Of even greater import as far as growth potential is the market emphasis on Ethernet’s commonality rather than its openness.
“Standardization 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, but, as always seems to be the case in the industrial automation segment, each major supplier wants to support its 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,” says ARC Vice President Chantal Polsonetti, the principal author of ARC’s “Ethernet-based Device Networks Worldwide Outlook.”
Availability of a single network technology that enables vertical integration throughout the enterprise over the same network, at least at the lower tiers of the network stack, is an increasingly compelling value proposition for manufacturers, says the report. Ease of network integration and configuration/reconfiguration, as well as the potential for less expensive, flatter architectures and enterprise-wide data exchange are all possible. A common skill base for configuration, installation, maintenance and troubleshooting reduces the need for specialized personnel and allows customers to take advantage of a broader skill base and more readily accessible training and support. Ethernet’s worldwide availability and support by both major IT and automation vendors also makes it attractive relative to dedicated industrial networks.
Evidence of the reduced emphasis on openness versus commonality in the industrial Ethernet realm is evident in the use of the network in even embedded applications, where proprietary protocols typically reign. In the motion control segment for instance, industrial Ethernet is rapidly being adopted in even single-vendor applications that don’t require the ability to plug-and-play components from different suppliers.