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Opening the Door

The idea of networking automation control is getting on to 20 years old.

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And it was just about 20 years ago when the chief controls engineer for an automotive component manufacturing plant told me that he would never run a wire from a programmable logic controller (PLC) to anything. In those days, input/output modules were in the chassis of the PLC and wires just went to sensors, motor starters and other assorted devices. Actually, I think he used a little Modbus or Modbus Plus for limited communication. When I started learning about DeviceNet, I didn’t bother pitching it.

Visionaries at about the same time (early 90s) began experimenting with the network that was just about to take over the general networking environment—Ethernet. It was not a done deal back then that darn near everything would become Ethernet.

Here we are in 2009 and Ethernet is everywhere. Any kind of device you can think of that communicates either has an Ethernet port or access via its wireless cousin WiFi. Engineers used to think that it was just a chintzy office network that would never make it in the factory. They were wrong. The genius of Ethernet—simplicity and adaptability—lent itself to adoption by automation suppliers and engineers.

One of our most popular Webcasts of all time was our first one from several years ago about taking Ethernet to the I/O. It still remains a popular topic. We’ll have more on it later this year. As Terry Costlow discovered in researching his article this month, engineers are becoming more comfortable with the technology and finding more ways to use it.

For an interesting and informative Webcast, “Ethernet-Based Industrial Communication Protocols,” please visit

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