Not so long ago, automation industry partnerships primarily worked in one way. That is, the larger company in the partnership dictated how the other company’s product could work within the larger company’s predefined system.
Increasing demands from industry for greater device and system interoperability, however, have been driving different kinds of partnerships over the past several years (see links at the bottom of this article for a few other recent announcements). These newer partnerships depart from long-held format of the biggest partner dictating the terms and, instead, focus on making the two companies’ products work together more easily.
The most recent example of this trend appeared earlier this week when the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) and PI (Profibus and Profinet International) announced a new collaboration based on “promoting and disseminating the use of open industrial networks.” In the associations’ announcement of this partnership, they note how the varied landscape of proprietary systems across industry has forced machine builders to equip their machines with different networks and limited plants’ selection of devices because the different communication systems in existence are unable to exchange data freely.
The collaborative agreement between CLPA and PI aims to address this issue by enabling “transparent and easy bi-directional communication between CC-Link IE and Profinet devices through standardized interfaces.” A joint working group is being established to develop the necessary technical specifications, but no date has yet been announced as to when specifications from this group are expected to be delivered.
Underscoring the importance of interoperability at the network level are findings from Automation World’s annual “Ethernet and Wireless in the Plant” survey. We just finished conducting this year’s survey and full results will be released in January; but I will share a key piece of information from the survey relevant to the CLPA and PI announcement. When asked what factors influence Automation World readers’ selection of Ethernet networking devices and systems, “interoperability” ranked as the second highest response, with 56 percent of respondents noting its importance. In fact, interoperability only ranked behind reliability (71 percent) in terms of importance — even ranking ahead of price (51 percent).
Automation World coverage of recent industrial partnerships: