Will Ethernet overtake fieldbus in automation networks?

LONDON – A new study by IMS Research–now part of IHS Inc.– now part of IHS Inc. – estimates that fieldbus protocols accounted for 75% of new industrial automation component network connections in 2011. This is projected to fall to 69% in 2016. New network connections using fieldbus protocols are still some way ahead that of Ethernet, yet growth of Ethernet connections is expected to be considerably higher to 2016.

More industrial automation component vendors are offering Ethernet provision as standard on their devices. A number of vendors released new products in 2012 which put the emphasis squarely on connectivity via Ethernet technology. As these vendors push the adoption of Ethernet protocols it requires machine builders and end users to switch from older fieldbus technologies.

Tom Moore, IHS analyst for industrial Ethernet, fieldbus and wireless research, commented, "While fieldbus solutions offer connection speeds that may be fast enough for certain applications, they do not offer a unified networking approach, such as with Ethernet technologies. It's not just unification which is an issue. Simplifying the network can reduce company overheads through an integrated system. This is difficult to achieve with fieldbus technologies. Instead end users will usually have separate office IT divisions and a factory IT divisions. Ethernet adoption across a plant or factory provides a better environment for sharing information and a single division with responsibility for the overall network. The benefits of which are likely to be less downtime and lower overall cost."

The future still is strong for fieldbus, with new connections still increasing year-on-year. However, iindustrial Ethernet growth will remain higher than that of fieldbus. IHS believes that within 10 to 15 years industrial Ethernet will be the dominant networking technology in industrial environments and almost all components will offer Ethernet connectivity as standard.

Long product lifecycles and conservatism in industry will maintain fieldbus in the near term but eventually it will be relegated to a supporting role. "With the reduction in adoption will likely come an increase in cost also, further fuelling the transition to industrial Ethernet," says Moore.

"The World Market for Industrial Ethernet and Fieldbus Technologies – 2013 Edition" is now available. This includes extensive analysis of industrial Ethernet and fieldbus technologies.

 


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