6657376b86c1d803792bbca6 Suppliers Plan To Put More Ethernetapl Products In

Suppliers plan to put more Ethernet-APL products in play

May 29, 2024
What vendors have learned about Ethernet-APL and how to employ it to gain the most benefits

Ever since its specification was completed in 2022, supplier-members of the Ethernet-Advanced Physical Layer (APL) organization have been running with the ball and hurriedly developing products that comply with and support it. Just like their fellow standards development organization (SDO) members, these vendors have also learned plenty about Ethernet-APL, and how users can understand and employ it to gain the most benefits.


“The whole world runs on Ethernet, so Ethernet-APL is a big deal because it can go into hazardous areas, allowing Profinet, EtherNet/IP, Modbus, HART IP and OPC UA to be used there, along with other IT-based capabilities and benefits,” says Andrew Kravitz, instrument connectivity and innovation director at Emerson. “This enables the NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) concept of getting information where it’s needed. Ethernet-APL lets devices talk to other systems without going through control systems. For instance, it can take data like an echo curve from a radar gauge and quickly get it into an asset management system, or use pressure, temperature and flow data to check the efficiency and asset health of equipment like heat exchangers. Instead of using multiple clipboards as they did previously, users can employ software like Emerson’s Plantweb Insight via HART-IP protocol to bring in data from more devices for even better insights.”

Beyond bringing in data from IS areas, Kravitz reports that Ethernet-APL can access and relay more diverse and varied types of information. For example, a Coriolis flowmeter with smart-meter verification can deliver reports via Ethernet-APL about the health of the device itself and not just the process parameters it’s measuring. “The increased bandwidth of Ethernet-APL also unlocks the potential for new types of sensing technologies built on rich data sets. This is similar to how we can do steam trap monitoring today using acoustics to detect energy losses via WirelessHART,” he says. “Ethernet-APL is a great technical enabler, but a lot of work is still needed to show it's scalable and secure, and as easy to use as HART and 4-20 mA have been. Migrating to Ethernet-APL without ripping and replacing is another challenge, so Emerson is working on our CHARMS programmable I/O modules to let them mix Ethernet-APL and regular signals. This will enable users to maintain the existing 4-20 mA devices they want, while upgrading to Ethernet-APL where they need it.”


Jason Pennington, digital solutions director at Endress+Hauser USA, reports that Ethernet-APL is crucial for users on their digital transformation journey because it increases the ways they can move managed data from their field assets to a modern IT infrastructure. 

“One of the biggest connectivity challenges today is delivering available asset information through analog or multi-layered networks. Users are seeking more functions, and many capabilities are available. However, they’re constrained by the patchworks of plant-floor devices and networks that their edge devices and gateways can't easily or economically plug into,” says Pennington. “This is why most enterprise resource planning systems (ERP), computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), cloud-computing services and dashboard can't be populated with much more than 4-20mA data.”

Keith Riley, product marketing manager for level and pressure at Endress+Hauser, adds that linking field devices with IT-level networks is even more urgent now because so many production components have gained intelligent capabilities, and need someplace to send all the new data they’re producing. “Most manufacturers have or are developing smart instruments with improved diagnostic capabilities, but unless the site can make a point-to-point connection, this data is trapped and they’re stuck on the equivalent of a narrow backroad,” says Riley. “This means important predictive and preventative diagnostics the facility can utilize to improve productivity aren’t readily available. Ethernet-APL can unlock these advantages by providing better visibility of production data, especially if it’s generated in harsh or hazardous settings. This improved visibility allows more complete analytics and more efficient operations by the equipment and processes they already have in place.”

Beyond bridging field and IT levels, Pennington adds that Ethernet-APL also enables users to create a unified name space (UNS) for their information. UNS can turn signals, measurements and other data into software-based objects that users can adjust to view and share different aspects of what’s happening based on their different roles, such as operations, maintenance, reliability, quality assurance, supply chain and environment. “In the past, gathering and providing all these aspects would require a massive download from historians or SCADA system to Excel or other databases,” he explains. “Now, modern, IT-based devices and software can coordinate all these formerly separate pieces of data, identify challenges, causes and solutions, and create instructions, GPS maps, workorders and digital twins with highlighted colors that show what’s needed—and Ethernet-APL has the speed to make them happen. This is much better than the limited data about a challenge that a 4-20 mA signal can provide, and driving miles out into the field to find and fix it.”
Ethernet-APL also saves time because its two-wire, single-pair Ethernet (SPE) wiring saves installation time compared to the four wires that regular Ethernet traditionally requires. Riley reports that Ethernet-APL is available in multiple products in Endress+Hauser’s pressure, temperature, level and flow portfolios that communicate via Profinet. “We’ve also been working with EtherNet/IP for seven or eight years, and users enjoy its advantages,” adds Pennington. “However, they also want two-wire devices, and after years in development, Ethernet-APL is it.”

While it’s too early to estimate the savings that Ethernet-APL can produce, Riley and Pennington report that deploying it is likely to save $100-200 per device, and generate an even greater return on investment (ROI) thanks to an expected eight to 10 times fewer breakdowns and downtime.    


“We’re getting lots of requests for Ethernet-APL from customers worldwide because it was designed with hazardous areas in mind,” says Bernd Schuessler, global account manager and global Ethernet-APL sales lead at Pepperl+Fuchs. “It covers longer distances than Ethernet’s 100 meters, reduces wiring with its single-pair cable, provides easy proof of entity for devices, and it easily matches components with switches.”

Aaron Severa, product manager for Ethernet-APL and HMI in the process automation division at Pepperl+Fuchs North America, reports that Ethernet-APL is also easy to use because it provides an avenue for Profinet, EtherNet/IP, Modbus TCP and even Profibus PA protocols over the same trunk-and-spur topology, and even allows reuse of existing Type A fieldbus cables. “Ethernet-APL just changes the physical layer for intrinsically safe (IS) cable runs as part of the SPE standard (IEEE 802.3cg-2019), which allows IS over longer distances, but with slightly stepped down speed and power,” says Severa. “Ethernet-APL uses 0.54 Watts maximum power per spur, which is required by Port Power Class A and Ex Ia regulations for Zone 0/Division 1 instrumentation.”

Because it’s based on Ethernet and SPE, another benefit of Ethernet-APL is that it simplifies the processes of matching field instruments and switches, qualifying their source ports and load ports to verify where they can be installed, and characterizing their network loops. “This simplicity gives users more confidence because they know devices like our ARS-1 Ethernet-APL Rail Field switch will work with Endress+Hauser and Krohne’s port,” explains Severa. “Plus, they won’t need to look up voltages and power levels because they’ve already been qualified by the same organization.”

Schuessler adds that replacing fieldbus devices used to be more difficult because there were more different and often incompatible versions of hardware and software. “Ethernet-APL solves these issues because most qualifying information is already embedded in the devices, so users can just replace them and know they’ll start OK,” he says. “This enables seamless data transport from field devices via Ethernet-APL, which makes it easier to run analytics, reduce shutdowns, gain efficiencies, and increase revenue.” 


“Today, we have tools that can harvest the flood of information from smart instruments and other field-based devices, and we can use cloud-computing services to make data-driven decisions. But getting from one point to the other is where Ethernet-APL comes in,” says Doug Ortiz, DCS product manager at Siemens. “Plus, where we used to get only basic information like on-off indications, Ethernet’s 10 Mbps speed can give us more sophisticated and diverse data, and Ethernet-APL can bring it in from hazardous areas. We’re looking at a future where Ethernet can tell us everything that’s happening on our plant floors, and makes the field feel like an extension of the IT-level network. This is how Ethernet-APL will be greater than the sum of its parts by allowing users to simply plus in Ethernet-APL instruments and switches, and immediately get data to assist their decisions.”

Ortiz reports that several Siemens products with Ethernet-APL will be launched soon. These will include P320 and P420 pressure transmitters, and support for Ethernet-APL by Simatic PCS7 DCS.

“Over the past 30 years, users typically worked with patchworks of high-density cabinets filled with HART-based I/O and other components. Because it’s so costly to rip and replace this hardware, many users want to keep it running, even as they supplement it with smarter devices,” adds Ortiz. “Leveraging information from traditional I/O and smart instruments will be another job for Ethernet-APL, which can send it onward to fuel analytics and digital twins that can formulate greater efficiencies and savings.”


“Ethernet-APL is part of the natural evolution of bringing digitalization and software to the field via all the physical layers of Ethernet, and using network switches to relay data for analysis, even if it’s in hazardous areas that require intrinsically safe solutions,” says Christoph Adam, head of product management at Softing Industrial Automation, which released an Ethernet-APL communication module in April, and plans to launch an Ethernet-APL switch in September. “There are different use cases and roles, but Ethernet-APL is likely the right technology for users familiar with 4-20 mA, who are now faced with transitioning from it, as well as Profibus and Foundation Fieldbus protocols that only communicate at 31.25 kbps. 

“Ethernet-APL’s advantages are that it communicates at 10 Mbps for 1,000 meters on trucks and 200 meters on spurs, and works with all the usual Ethernet protocols like Profinet, EtherNet/IP and others. It’s also easier to install because it also only needs one pair of wires to communicate, and can power field devices by delivering 0.53 W defined by Power Class A or 1.17 W defined by Power Class B, which are both intrinsically safe.”

Even though Ethernet is generally easier to implement, Adam reports it apparently remains difficult to convince some veteran process industry users to embrace it. “Experts in Germany say there are still barriers to adoption,” explains Adam. “Ethernet is much more familiar overall than fieldbuses and analog networking, but it’s mainly easier to get younger staffers to use it.”

To win over potential users to Ethernet-APL, Adam suggests building on established network connections and concepts. “If a user already has Profibus PA in place, they can likely add Ethernet-APL to their existing equipment that probably already has Profinet as well,” adds Adam. “This will let them try out Ethernet-APL, observe how it can work with their devices, explore how easy it is to handle, and see what data they’re getting.”

R. Stahl

“Ethernet-APL is the missing link in process automation for implementing the digitalized plant through to field instruments. Its physical layer conforms 100% with the IEEE 802.3 standard for Ethernet, and allows any Internet protocol (IP) communication on a two-wire cable with 10 MBit/s from the automation level down to each field device,” says André Fritsch, senior product manager for remote I/O and fieldbus at R. Stahl Inc. “With its focus on process automation, Ethernet-APL is suitable for hazardous area installations, and features IS protection for data transmission and power supplies for field devices. For example, R. Stahl is about to release Ethernet-APL field switches for Zone 1 and 2. We can expect a real breakthrough of the technology the coming year.”

Fritsch reports that Ethernet-APL isn’t the cheapest technology in terms of capital expenditure (CapEx), but it’s main benefits show up as operating expenditures (OpEx). “Lifecycle costs of Ethernet-APL should be less than corresponding 4-20mA HART installations, according to NAMUR NE 168, ‘Requirements for a field-level Ethernet communication system,’” he says. “The main advantage of Ethernet-APL is that it’s standard Ethernet IEEE 802.3, but with explosion protection.”

Fritsch adds that Ethernet-APL is globally standardized and widely supported by suppliers. “Unlike earlier fieldbuses, this is not just a process automation solution, but a technology that’s supported by everyone and everything,” he explains. “Installation is easier than ever because Ethernet is a point-to-point connection, so each problem can be limited to exactly two ports and the connecting cable. General Ethernet support is available from users’ own IT departments, which are experienced and know all the Ethernet-specific tips and tricks. However, this is also a kind of a drawback because good IT practice may not match process automation requirements. As usual, appropriate staff training is required to understand the requirements of process automation, including explosion protection and IS.”

As soon as enough Ethernet-APL field devices with required functions are available, Fritsch adds it will be the de facto standard for new installations. “In the brownfield market, upgrading to Ethernet-APL doesn’t make sense for all installations because there are functional and commercial limitations,” he says. “However, there other options, such as our Zone 1 Remote I/O, which can be the first entry into Ethernet by retaining the installed base of field devices. In our opinion, the future plant architecture will be a mixture of Ethernet-APL for more complex instruments, and Remote I/O for simple devices like proximity switches or solenoid valves. With both technologies on an Ethernet backbone and using the same network protocol, the advantages of both solutions can be combined for maximum efficiency.”

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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