Why Ethernet-APL will enable the future of process automation

June 23, 2021
To understand the meaning of Ethernet-APL for the field of process automation, we have to take a closer look at the present. In the manufacturing industries, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industries 4.0 are already part of everyday operations. Digitization and new technologies are poised to bring these widely into process automation as well.

As digitalization becomes more prevalent, it is becoming increasingly important to gain access to data from every part of a plant to extract more value for companies. However, in the process industry, there are special requirements, such as enabling seamless and fast communication from the field level to the information level, including in explosive hazardous areas and under harsh conditions that has made it difficult to migrate to more digital solutions. In this sensitive industrial sector, any deployment of new technology must be thoroughly tested and provide added business benefits. Furthermore, new technology cannot require extensive training for installing and maintenance. Meeting the needs of process automation is not an easy task. This is why it has been a challenge to digitize the field level in the process industry so far—until now. 

Today's common physical layers are too slow

But first of all, let's have a look at the current situation—For many decades, process automation instruments have been connected to control systems through a simple 2-wire cable that also supplied power to the instruments. The physical characteristics of the wire itself and the electrical characteristics of the signals that pass along it are together called the physical layer. The two most common physical layers found in process automation are 4-20mA and fieldbus. They both have the disadvantage that they are slow, falling far short of today's fully digital physical layers. 

The last meter of Ethernet connectivity

This is why the leading suppliers to process automation recognize the need from their customers to enable Ethernet to the field. Ethernet is the de-facto communication standard in enterprises, but until now it did not meet the requirements in the field of process automation without modification. 

A key group of leading automation suppliers and standards development organizations have come together to accelerate development and adopt a new open standard for an Ethernet physical layer for the use in process automation and instrumentation that can: 

  • be deployed in hazardous areas
  • allow long-reach connectivity
  • include an option for device power over the line

This new Ethernet advanced physical layer, called "Ethernet-APL," together with the automation protocols that define the structure and meaning of information being transmitted to and from field devices, will be one of the key enabling factors to bring Ethernet-enabled instrumentation and infrastructure to the field level of process automation. This last meter of Ethernet connectivity would allow any enterprise boardroom to obtain data quickly and efficiently from all regions of its extensive network.

Advantages of Ethernet-APL

Why should you be interested in Ethernet-APL? Simply said: it is the future of process automation. Ethernet-APL has many advantages: 

  • simplicity in engineering and maintenance
  • accelerates deployment
  • redundancy mechanisms for high availability
  • increases asset optimization
  • open technology to avoid vendor lock-in
  • supports powerful integration technologies
  • reduces risks
  • robust connection technology with an explosion protection option (intrinsic safety)

Ethernet-APL should be seen as a future investment, because it enables you to reduce the total cost of ownership.

A future-proofed technology

Ethernet-APL is a full Ethernet standard. It supports all current and future higher-level communication protocols and services and flattens the network infrastructure. Ethernet-APL removes the need for protocol conversions and gateways, providing barrier-free and parallel accessibility and providing the extra speed required in a data-driven economy. 

This technology combines the best attributes of Ethernet communication with two-wire installation techniques. This makes Ethernet-APL easy to deploy as a standard for field applications, from process plants with hazardous areas up to Zone 0/Division 1 to hybrid plants, employing technologies from disrete and process automation.

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