For the first time since the EtherCAT networking protocol was introduced 20 years ago, the EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG) reported Apr. 27 that it’s publishing node figures. Excluding modular I/O devices, ETG counts 59.1 million EtherCAT nodes, with recent growth being particularly impressive. Since 2014, growth has been exponential, with 18.4 million nodes added in 2022 alone.
These figures include EtherCAT chips sold in a respective year, though this doesn’t include chips for I/O terminals. This means that a modular I/O station counts as a single node, even if it consists of many more EtherCAT terminals.
"The chip numbers are accurate, but there’s a certain time lag—not every chip becomes an installed EtherCAT device in the same calendar year," says Martin Rostan, executive director at ETG, who also manages EtherCAT licensing for Beckhoff Automation.
Similar to the Controller Area Network (CAN) protocol, EtherCAT requires only the chip manufacturer to license its hardware, so the cost is included when buying EtherCAT chips. Beckhoff finances ETG with chip license income, so membership in the world’s largest fieldbus association is free of charge. EtherCAT has been an international IEC standard and a SEMI standard since 2007.
"Because we don't know the exact unit numbers of field-programmable gate array (FPGA), Internet protocol (IP) core-based implementations, we held back on publishing node numbers," adds Rostan. "But the reported unit numbers of the current 12 EtherCAT chip vendors are now so large that any possible fuzziness in estimating FPGA numbers is no longer a factor—they enter the totals at less than 10%. We also included multiprotocol chips in proportion to the market share of the protocols. Thus, the figures are based on very reliable sources and they’re determined very conservatively. There are probably significantly more EtherCAT devices."
Except for 2019, when the automation market’s turbulence also affected EtherCAT unit numbers, growth has been exponential for several years. "Three years ago, we still believed in an upward outlier, but now the trend has solidified. The exponential growth continues," adds Rostan. "The Asian market is developing the fastest, especially in China. But EtherCAT is also making better progress in North America. And in Europe, where the technology has its origins, EtherCAT has been going strong for quite some time."