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Industry, standards organizations unite behind Ethernet-APL

June 25, 2021

The process industry is facing a radical change in terms of digitization. Many developments have been initiated to obtain more information from the process in order to be able to produce more efficiently or more flexibly or bring more flexibility into the internal processes (Maintenance). Ethernet-Advanced Physical Layer (Ethernet-APL™) is the key technology here that connects the field level of process automation systems to the Industrial Internet of Things, making it the decisive step in achieving a higher degree of digitization a reality. Ethernet-APL not only brings Ethernet technology to the process field device, but also provides a secure, future-proof solution for the requirements of process users.

The fact that the well-known organizations for communication systems for the automation of process engineering automation systems FieldComm Group, ODVA, OPC Foundation and PI as well as  twelve industry partners have joined forces to provide a uniform solution means that the most important prerequisite for rapid worldwide dissemination through the one standard has been met. The first practical tests of Ethernet-APL are already underway on the basis of prototypes at the companies involved in the project and at users—e.g. BASF—and have been successfully completed. 

The specification work is now largely complete and the first switches and field devices with Ethernet-APL are expected in summer 2021. The specified roadmaps were adhered to so that the chip manufacturers were able to provide their solutions. The Conformance Specification, which is important for interoperability, will also be released this year.

At the same time, the other supplementary work, which is particularly necessary for user acceptance and safe, long-lasting industrial use, will also start. These include the completion of the Engineering Guideline, the implementation of test cases and tools, and the establishment of certification processes. Real use cases are also an important building block in this context, so that the technology is developed in a practical manner. This is where the final adjustments are made and subtleties are incorporated from the user‘s point of view.

After all important work regarding certification, standardization, etc. will be completed this year, the first concrete projects with Ethernet-APL will start next year. Among other things, the test facilities will be equipped with new devices and no longer just prototypes. From our experience, it is important that the implementation of the use cases is started quickly. This is the only way for users to gain confidence in the new technology.

All this work is taking place in close cooperation between the organizations and industry partners involved. Therefore, all players are confident that a wide range of Ethernet-APL devices will be available from 2022 and will be shown at the postponed Achema in April 2022.

FieldComm Group

FieldComm Group believes that digital transformation in the process automation industry is a revolutionary concept implemented in an evolutionary way.

Bridging the OT and IT worlds requires consideration of the installed base of field instruments … of which over 70 million support HART. Introduction of 2-wire intrinsically safe Ethernet-APL technology, initially to network components, immediately simplifies access to these instruments driving value for the end user. We heartily congratulate the Ethernet to the Field Project for all the work completed to achieve this milestone.

Additionally, enhancements to the HART-IP standard coupled with Ethernet-APL will enable HART-IP to extend from today’s infrastructure products all the way to the field device … with minimal change in host system software. PA-DIM, the Process Automation Device Information Model, supports the Namur Open Architecture (NOA) thus providing the device information to seamlessly enable enterprise IT analytics systems independent of automation protocol while also futureproofing user investments.

As a founding standards development organization of the Ethernet to the Field Project, FieldComm Group has led the conformance activities of the team with one principal goal in mind … assuring that users who begin to transition to Ethernet-APL infrastructure and devices achieve the same level of multi-vendor interoperability that they have come to expect from current process automation technologies.

With over 30 years of experience developing standards, test processes, and product registration services we are confident that equipment supporting Ethernet-APL will conform to the rigorous and often hazardous requirements of process automation.

ODVA

ODVA is actively engaged in the industry-wide effort to promote adoption of long reach and hazardous area capable Ethernet-APL, which will soon open up the process industry to the high speed and rich data afforded via Ethernet.

ODVA is committed to working together with leading standards organizations and industry partners to develop the technology, guidelines, and best practices to assure successful deployment of Ethernet-APL to the field. Ethernet communication will be a key factor in moving critical information from the device to the cloud for future applications with modern IIoT and Industry 4.0 solutions. EtherNet/IP will be one of the key available Ethernet communication networks as it was originally designed for the future with a basis in IP technology and has been named as one of the minimum binding requirements for field level to higher system level communication by NAMUR.

EtherNet/IP supports NAMUR NE 107 Process Diagnostics, includes a translation mechanism for the integration of HART devices, and works efficiently and seamlessly with FDI technology. Furthermore, EtherNet/IP enables leading application level cyber security and safety solutions via CIP Security and CIP Safety. The Ethernet-APL physical layer will make usage of Ethernet in the field of process commonplace as a result of the determined and cooperative efforts of key industry players.

Interest from end users has been enthusiastic and will help drive adoption of Ethernet-APL, which will enable companies to gain the benefits of valuable additional data insights and drive cost savings. As a result, networks like EtherNet/IP will be able to be used across the process plant to connect devices to higher level infrastructure as an enabler to better performance for IIoT, Industry 4.0, NOA, and OPAF. 

We congratulate the APL Project for completion of this important milestone for the process industries!

OPC Foundation

OPC UA and Ethernet-APL: A common-sense partnership between two enabling technologies

The OPC Foundation congratulates the Ethernet-APL Project on the announcement of their achievement of a critically important milestone of cross-vendor utilization of their standard. We have joined this initiative because we strongly believe that the combination of OPC UA over APL will be a key technology for decades to come.

The key to APL technology is its ability to extend capabilities and simplify applications for end users by scaling an Ethernet-based IT infrastructure from edge to sensor: APL is a perfect enabler for extending OPC UA to the field level.

Only OPC UA technology scales from the sensor to the cloud and back, transporting standardized information models via secure communications across plant networks in a way that streamlines the deployment and operation of industrial automation implementations.

The OPC Foundation is the global gravity-center for the next generation of field-level communications: 320 experts from 65 companies define OPC UA FX (Field eXchange) specification extensions for a harmonized process and factory automation solution including Safety, Motion, and Real-time. Users will, in our view, benefit from these important building blocks: (1) the world’s largest eco-system for interoperability, with (2) OPC UA as the framework for secure information exchange, with (3) standardized information models and semantics (such as the UA-based Dexpi, VDMA’s models, MDIS, and PA-DIM), and now with (4) Ethernet-APL connectivity from the Edge into the field devices. 

Moreover, the PA industry will be very well served with the inclusion of OPC UA across communications frameworks such as the O-PAS™ and NOA, that will undoubtedly benefit from Ethernet-APL.

The future of process control is available today – Ethernet-APL is that future.

Profibus and Profinet International

The widespread use of Ethernet in the field of the process industry is on the verge of a breakthrough thanks to the results of the Ethernet-APL project.

Some may criticize the long development time. But all industrial companies and organizations involved in the project were concerned with creating a viable overall solution. Since PI (PROFIBUS and PROFINET International) has been focusing on process industry applications with its technologies since the 1990s, the results for PROFINET have come at the right time, so that, now that PA Profile 4.0 has been made available, the last building block of PROFINET is also available for process technology applications.

The widespread use of Ethernet-APL will not be long in coming. One of the main reasons for us as PI is that it fulfills one of the main requirements of NAMUR for the realization of NOA. Another lies in the fact that the main organizations for industrial communication systems are developing the standard together with well-known device and system manufacturers who serve the process industry with products. This ensures worldwide coverage by a standard from the very beginning.

The interest of end users in the results is high. This is proven by the test setups in their laboratories based on first prototypes of devices from different industry partners. The results of the tests have been reported positively in public, which pleases us very much. It has been clearly demonstrated that Ethernet-APL is suitable as a physical layer in the field of process automation and as a base technology for higher-level applications.

Experts from PI are significantly involved in the results of the project. The motivation for us to produce a perfect technology together with other organizations in a result-oriented cooperation was and still is very high and we are looking forward to further cooperation.

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