Schneider Electric Boosts ODVA Presence

The company’s move to become a “principal member” of the Open DeviceNet Vendors Association could lead to broader network interoperability for manufacturing end-users.

Schneider Electric, the Rueil-Malmaison, France, supplier of electrical power and control products, has become one of the principal members of the Open DeviceNet Vendors Association (ODVA), joining other principal members Cisco Systems, Eaton Electrical, Omron Corp. and Rockwell Automation. Schneider Electric’s increased participation in ODVA coincides with ODVA's plans to extend the CIP Network specifications to provide compatibility of Modbus/TCP devices with networks built on the Common Industrial Protocol (CIP).  

This extension will give existing users of Modbus/TCP—an open standard industrial Ethernet protocol supported principally by Schneider Electric—a clear path to CIP Network architectures, while protecting their automation investments. CIP is an open architecture, upper-level networking protocol that is used by EtherNet/IP, another industrial Ethernet flavor.

If someone missed the point that the Schneider Electric/ODVA announcement was considered major by all the players, here is a sense of how major. Automation World had four conference calls regarding it. The interviews included Katherine Voss, executive director of ODVA, Joe Kann, vice president of global business development of Rockwell Automation and a team from Schneider Electric that included Andy Gravitt, vice president of automation, Geoff Walker, director of automation and controls and Fred Cohn, director of marketing for Ethernet products.

Gravitt said, “This is a big deal globally for us.” Voss said this is an important follow up to the agreement with Sercos who accepted CIP (common industrial protocol, the technology behind EtherNet/IP) Safety as part of Sercos III. Kann reiterated how important EtherNet/IP is to Rockwell—in fact it is the underlying technology in its control platforms for communication.

The announcement (to recap) was that Schneider Electric has decided to upgrade its membership level in ODVA to “principal” from “regular.” Voss explained that the principal category was recently created partly replacing the “founder” category. Rockwell Automation, Omron Electronics, Eaton (at the time Eaton/Cutler-Hammer) and Hitachi were the founding members of the Open DeviceNet Vendors Association. In 2004 Cisco was added—necessitating the name change to principal. Principal members have the privilege of nominating a person from the company for the board of directors and another person to sit on the technical review board.

In addition to the membership commitment, Schneider announced its roadmap for the future from Modbus TCP will be EtherNet/IP and the CIP networks.

Adding more

Cohn said, “This continues and extends our philosophy begun as Transparent Factory and continued as Transparent Ready, which is standard, unmodified Ethernet in manufacturing. This adds more services and protocols to the Modbus TCP foundation. Modbus is a good messaging protocol, but we needed to move to a higher speed, synced network with expanded profiles for safety and motion. We'll be getting this into the PLCs first followed by adding different services later.” Schneider has four motion initiatives in process right now.

There will be a special interest group (SIG) established by ODVA to work on the protocol coordination to encapsulate Modbus packets within CIP so that they may be passed on the CIP network. When this is finished and adopted, then a test procedure can be established. Products can then be manufactured and tested for conformance. Schneider expects products supporting EtherNet/IP on the market in 2008.

Gravitt added, "This action brings together market forces of the two leaders in installed base with a standard Ethernet solutions. Our customers with Modbus TCP can feel assured that their technology investment is secure in the future."

On last caveat from Gravitt, “This announcement in no way signals a diminishment of our commitment to the CAN and AS-interface networks.”

The press release and conversations were peppered with the comment "unmodified Ethernet." After attempts to pin them down, no one would commit to a specific example of a "modified" Ethernet. At the very least this refers to Ethernet TCP/IP exactly like standard commercial (office) Ethernet. No special chips or protocols that don't ride on the TCP/IP packets. The closest comment came from Voss, who said that some networks “to take full advantage of their network” require modifications to the standard network. 

Burgeoning benefits 

Schneider Electric’s increased support of ODVA reflects the company’s plans to deploy EtherNet/IP as a foundation of its network strategy. The release by ODVA states, “Users will benefit through significantly increased interoperability between the largest installed base of industrial Ethernet networks—EtherNet/IP and Modbus/TCP—as well as between automation products from a growing number of vendors. Combined, these benefits will reduce cost, time and risk for users deploying and maintaining their network architectures.” 

"Our customers want the interoperability and seamless integration of the factory floor that networks using standard, unmodified Ethernet can provide, and one network for control, information, configuration, safety, synchronization and motion,” said Adrien Scolé, senior vice president of Innovation for the Automation Business, Schneider Electric. “EtherNet/IP is the answer to meeting our customers’ needs by providing compatibility with existing Modbus/TCP products and systems in combination with the complete suite of services contained in CIP. For these reasons, we are eager to team with ODVA to help make EtherNet/IP the most widely used industrial network available." 

Katherine Voss, executive director, ODVA, added, "ODVA is delighted Schneider Electric is increasing its support of the organization and our technologies, most notably EtherNet/IP. Schneider Electric is an industry leader in driving adoption of standard, unmodified Ethernet technologies on the factory floor and throughout the enterprise. ODVA looks forward to leveraging the vast experience of Schneider Electric in automation and their expertise in Ethernet and Internet technologies to continue to expand the capabilities of ODVA technologies." 

EtherNet/IP was introduced in 2001 and has more than 1.125 million installed nodes. EtherNet/IP and Modbus/TCP are the two most popular industrial Ethernet protocols, representing a combined worldwide market share of more than 50 percent, according to ARC Advisory Group Inc. a Dedham, Mass., market research and analyst firm. 

This is big 

“This is a big development in the automation industry,” said ARC Senior Analyst Harry Forbes. “It is unusual to see several automation majors joining in such close collaboration, especially in a strategic area such as industrial Ethernet, and it adds to the value of ODVA and its CIP Network technologies in the automation industry. Automation users of Modbus/TCP can now look forward to benefiting from CIP Networks. Schneider Electric products will also benefit from the many capabilities of CIP, but end-users will be the real winners here because future CIP Networks will offer an even broader range of choices.” 

Schneider Electric plans to have its next generation of EtherNet/IP products, incorporating connectivity to existing Modbus/TCP devices, in 2008. ODVA will provide an overview of the concept planned for the EtherNet/IP Specification to support Modbus/TCP devices on EtherNet/IP networks at a press conference next Monday, April 16, at the Hannover Fair, in Hannover, Germany.

ODVA
www.odva.org

Schneider Electric
www.schneider-electric.com

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