CC-Link Offers More than Just a Gateway to Asia

CC-Link, the fieldbus protocol which dominates the Asian market, but which has until recently largely been ignored in the European and North American markets (which are dominated by Profibus, DeviceNet and Foundation Fieldbus) is beginning to make significant inroads into Europe. That was the message from outgoing CLPA (CC-Link Partner Association) general manager, Steve Jones, and his successor, John Browett, at a press conference held shortly before Christmas.

Browett is, like Jones, a Mitsubishi alumnus seconded to CLPA-Europe, reinforcing the impression many have gained that CC-Link is to Mitsubishi, what they used to think that Profibus was to Siemens, and DeviceNet to Rockwell―i.e., proprietary protocols dressed up as open networks. That CC-Link is very much more is shown by the population numbers produced by CLPA. Installed nodes are multiplying at a rate of 950,000 a year and are set to pass the 8 million mark by March 2011, while the number of compliant products now exceeds 1000, and the number of partner companies 1300, with between 300 and 400 of them coming from Europe.

Hence the presence of CLPA at the SPS/IPC/DRIVES show in Nuremburg last November, where a number of European companies released CC-Link-compliant products, and CLPA itself announced a co-operation agreement with the FDT Group. With the completion "early in 2011" of an annex to the FDT protocol to support the CC-Link family of network protocols, the CC-Link will become increasingly attractive to European vendors, while at the same time create the opportunity for FDT to establish itself as a credible alternative to EDDL (Electronic Device Description Language) in China and Japan.

The principal reason for the growing interest in CC-Link among European companies is its status as a sine qua non for entry into Asian markets. According to IMS Asia Pacific, it currently accounts for 20% of the Asian market compared with the Profibus share of just 12%.

CC-Link for Europe

However, as European companies become more familiar with the protocol, they may come to appreciate that it offers significant advantages which could also be exploited nearer to home. CC-Link can already claim to be the first and arguably the only gigabit Industrial Ethernet (IE) solution and, with its motion control solution due for release during 2011, will be able to claim that its entire portfolio will support gigabit Ethernet by the end of the year. Moreover, a further significant development already allows conventional Ethernet devices to be supported on CC-Link IE networks.

These and other capabilities have led CLPA to rebrand CC-Link as the "Non-Stop Open Network," and to claim that it offers levels of availability in challenging industrial environments unrivalled by alternative solutions. In support of this claim it points to high noise immunity and 'floating master' capability, whereby an alternative controller can take over immediately and seamlessly in the event of a failure of the principal controller. Similarly, stations can be hot-swapped without interrupting network operation while a station bypass function allows stations to be included in a network, but not implemented until actually required.

European companies which have recognized the potential of CC-Link include Weidmüller, which has added CC-Link IE support to its range of Gigabit Ethernet connectivity solutions, HMS Industrial Networks, which supports CC-Link IE with its Anybus–S gigabit Ethernet interface modules, and Hilscher, which has introduced a Network Evaluation Board supporting CC-Link Remote Device and Remote I/O capabilities. Further support for European companies seeking to adopt CC-Link comes with the opening this month of a conformance test center in Düsseldorf, which forms part of a broader "Gateway to Asia" program, proving of particular interest to German machinery builders seeking to increase their presence in the Chinese market.

Meanwhile, coming in the opposite direction, Mitsubishi is understood to see the agreement between CLPA and the FDT Group, the latter with its origins in process automation, as a significant plank in its own strategy for extending its presence from the discrete to the process manufacturing market.

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