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Ethernet is rapidly emerging as a key industrial network tool

By Max Burkhalter
November 23, 2011
Manufacturers are increasingly putting aside their fieldbuses and other legacy networking technologies and embracing Ethernet from the front office to the factory floor, Design News reported.

According to the news source, a recent conference hosted by Rockwell Automation emphasized the importance of Ethernet in industrial settings. Speakers focused on the progression away from fieldbus hardware and legacy protocols, including DeviceNet, ControlNet and Profibus. The maturation of Ethernet has led to the creation of industrial solutions that allow manufacturers to move beyond these outdated technologies and embrace Ethernet infrastructure in a diverse range of settings.

Major manufacturers, such as General Motors, are leading the charge toward Ethernet, as they are recognizing the network architecture's value in IT and leveraging it to improve operating capabilities within their factories, the report said.

Speaking at the conference, Joseph Kann, Rockwell Automation's vice president of global business development, explained that the road to Ethernet in industrial settings has been long, but it is finally reaching a point where the technology is becoming prevalent, the report said.

"It took a while [for Ethernet to take hold]. The original implementations of Ethernet didn't have the determinism that you need on the shop floor. But today, Ethernet is replacing the fieldbuses," said Kann.

Historically, Ethernet has struggled to take hold in industrial settings because the equipment control and automation systems managed through the network required infrastructure that was capable of ensuring data packets and other transmissions reach their exact destination. Ethernet's architecture was unable to accomplish that. However, the technology has matured to the point that it is capable of ensuring the determinism industrial networks needed, while also providing an integral connection between IT, corporate and industrial infrastructure, the report explained.

Ethernet's diversity is emerging as a key selling point for the technology. According to a recent Register report, Ethernet has matured to such an extent that businesses will soon be able to use a single cabling format to connect all of its switches, servers, computers and other systems. This makes it much simpler for businesses to upgrade the network and make key infrastructure changes because cabling deployment is easier when using Ethernet technologies. The level of interoperability needed to support such simple environments will likely be achieved within the next two network refresh cycles, the news source said.

Perle’s serial to Ethernet converters connect serial based equipment across an Ethernet network. The Perle IOLAN range of Console Servers, Device Servers and Terminal Servers feature built-in support for IPv6 along with a broad range of authentication methods and encryption technologies.


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