Industrial Ethernet: Diagnostics

Shop floor-to-top floor connectivity and wireless enablement often get most of the attention in discussions about industrial Ethernet. At a recent Profinet panel discussion, the core manufacturing operation and commissioning issues related to diagnostics took center stage.

If there’s one thing I’ve seen play out more often than not when it comes to industrial Ethernet, it’s that the technology rarely fails to generate a good discussion. A decade ago, animated discussions often broke out over the viability of Ethernet as a plant floor network. Today, some claim Ethernet will soon become the sole industrial network—all the way down to the device and sensor level, while others contend that Ethernet will not progress much farther than the control layer into the heart of manufacturing.

Wherever you see yourself in the arc of this technology discussion, there’s no disputing that Ethernet is here to stay in the industrial networking space. But it is still a relatively new technology to manufacturing and thus many questions remain. This is especially true given the variety of Ethernet protocols available to manufacturers.

To help address some of those questions, I was asked to moderate a panel discussion on industrial Ethernet application at the most recent ARC Forum. Hosted by Profinet, the discussion did, of course, focus on Profinet technologies. However, it also served as an open discussion on industrial Ethernet technology in general. Members of the panel included: David Heyman of KUKA Robotics, Sam Hoff of Patti Engineering, Peter Karcz of Fori Automation, and David Loveridge of ICR Engineering.

The open-endedness of this panel discussion helped bring to the fore two critical industrial networking issues that do not always garner their fair share of the industrial Ethernet spotlight: diagnostics and safety. In this blog post, I’ll review some of the key points brought up about diagnostics.

Relating his experience working with different industrial networks in a manufacturing environment, Peter Karcz, who is controls manager at Fori Automation (an engineering services firm), noted that six years ago “everything was CAN bus and there were challenges” with the technology.  Adherence to use of CAN bus changed when the price point for industrial Ethernet became more attractive, he said.

Peter Heyman, controls engineering manager at KUKA Robotics, added that KUKA builds “complete production lines on our floor, and then we take it apart to ship.” The diagnostics offered by Profinet gives KUKA a high “confidence level that these lines will go right back up when we install it at the customer site,” Heyman said.

The proprietary nature and lack of diagnostics on the network protocols formerly used by KUKA could cause a lot of headaches during installation, Heyman said. “Determining which blue hose or network wasn’t running could take forever,” he said. “Now we can commission every node and have it operating in 30 minutes.”

Before adopting Profinet and its diagnostics capabilities, Heyman said KUKA used to allot 12 hours for the commissioning and debugging process of one its lines at a customer site. “We’re now saving roughly 11 and a half hours of installation time.”

Concurring with Heyman’s points, Karcz added that, by using Profinet, Fori has found the “diagnostics to be great for labor savings when bringing systems up.”

In my next blog post, I’ll review some of the specific points about safety over Ethernet addressed during the panel discussion.

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