Surprising Rapid Growth of Ethernet in Industrial Automation

April 9th, 2013 by

By Andy The

Historically the Industrial Automation industry has been slow to adopt change.  Some of the resistance is because industrial automation systems have  long life cycles – sometimes lasting 10+ years.  long life cycles require extreme dependability and only the most proven technologies are incorporated into a system.  It is this conservative nature that makes it so surprising to see the rapid adoption of Ethernet in industrial automation.

Because Ethernet has clear cost and performance benefits over previous bus standards (i.e. CAN), industrial customers are demanding solutions that use Ethernet based protocols.  Combining the low wiring cost with the integrated safety communicates create a solution that even the most conservative industrial designers cannot resist.  Ethernet based solutions are also  faster, and easier to use and configure than traditional buses.   EtherCAT, ProfiNet, POWERLINK, and Ethernet/IP are all Ethernet bus technologies that are rapidly growing.

There is an excellent article from PaceToday providing some specific reasons why they are predicting that the number of Ethernet based motor drives will triple by the year 2016.

With this explosion of Ethernet adoption in industrial automation, there will definitely be some winners and losers.  Hardware and software vendors that fail to develop Ethernet solutions quickly enough will be on the losing side of this growth. Players that support network centric components such as Windows Embedded, EtherCAT, POWERLINK, Ethernet/IP,  and ProfiNet are in the best position to become dominant players in this new industrial Ethernet era.

It’s exciting to see Ethernet‘s profound impact on communications within industrial automation. I can only wonder what will be the next technology to reshape the industrial automation landscape. I’m willing to bet it will involve ARM and Intel.


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