Ethernet Becoming de Facto Automation Network

Aug. 16, 2012
What are regularly some of the most-viewed pages on automationworld.com? Proprietary networks beware.

Interest in Ethernet continues to grow among Automation World readers. I wrote an article for the May issue on the basics of Ethernet networks that has been the most-viewed page at automationworld.com for the past three weeks. The next pages on the most-viewed list are two previous articles in this Industrial Ethernet Review supplement.

There are two essential reasons for Ethernet’s popularity. One, it leverages a commercial technology that has become ubiquitous. Flexibility is inherent in the design.

Two, everything from the firmware stack to availability of chips and components to cables and connectors are readily available. Components are inexpensive compared to the usual industrial equipment, and hundreds of thousands of people know how to configure and use it.

Strictly speaking, of course, Ethernet refers only to the physical layers. Popularly speaking, though, when people speak of Ethernet, they also refer to the OSI stack that includes TCP/UDP/IP and application layers.

The beauty of the application layers is that anything that conforms to the specification can be transmitted over the network at the same time as other applications.  Companies are free to develop applications. Profibus and ODVA have both developed standard application protocols for use over Ethernet, greatly expanding adoption.

We still have device level networking to worry about, of course, but look for more and more devices to support Ethernet. The peripherals mentioned in this month’s cover story are only the beginning.

>> Recipe for Success: Dig into the details of cabling, managed switches and more in Gary Mintchell’s “Recipe for a Robust Ethernet Network” bit.ly/awfeat056

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