Network hits and misses
The list of leading industrial networks for now and the near future reads like a top hits list from the past. According to the Control Engineering 1999 Industrial Networking survey, winning choices are tried-and-true strategies such as Ethernet, EIA-232 (formerly RS-232), and 4-20 mA. This bias toward the old is balanced, however, by a growing acceptance of digital networks and distribu...
The list of leading industrial networks for now and the near future reads like a top hits list from the past. According to the Control Engineering 1999 Industrial Networking survey, winning choices are tried-and-true strategies such as Ethernet, EIA-232 (formerly RS-232), and 4-20 mA. This bias toward the old is balanced, however, by a growing acceptance of digital networks and distributed intelligence.
To the nearly 1,200 readers who completed our comprehensive Industrial Network survey, in print and on the web, a great big thank you. Your responses are summarized in a supplement to this March issue. In total, it presents a complete picture of the multibillion-dollar global industrial networking marketplace.
One of the key findings of the survey is the very aggressive payback readers expect for their network investments. In North America, the typical respondent predicts annual network spending of $1.5 million, but attributes $3 million in annual savings to industrial networking. Numbers for international respondents are more conservative, but still positive, with annual industrial networking spending of $300,000 expected to generate $450,000 in annual savings.
Another key finding is the migration of intelligence from centralized control to distributed devices. Whereas today the majority of network intelligence resides in the controller (81%) and PC (62%), in the future, intelligence will be shared among controllers (56%), PCs (62%), sensors (34%), and final control elements (33%). Respondents predict this will increase network stability with less danger of a single point of failure.
A cry for help
For "must-have" features, network reliability is the hands-down winner, followed by ease-of-use and configurability; ability to upgrade; openness; and compatibility with existing equipment. The clear winner in "must-have" supplier characteristics is availability of technical assistance. Of next importance are after-sale support and support of open standards. These responses indicate a strong need for more network support and services. In fact, almost half of the respondents are turning to system integrators to implement network strategies.
Buying all network components from a single supplier is a "very likely" consideration for about 30% of respondents. Three suppliers, however, is the magic number for a majority of respondents. This could explain the need to hire outside help to implement multivendor network systems.
Will open systems increase or decrease the need for outside help? Unfortunately for network users, there is no simple answer. Your ability to implement a multivendor "open" strategy depends on the complexity of the application, your in-house expertise, the network you choose as a standard, and your ability to manage change.
With the rapid pace of technology advancement, choices will increase, rather than decrease. Pick a network with staying power, proven results, and strong vendor support. But like stock market reports—past performance is no guarantee of future results. Don't be afraid to dive in, just make sure it's not the shallow end of the pool.
On another note, Control Engineering is moving to new offices on March 1. Contact us at: Control Engineering, 2000 Clearwater Drive, Oak Brook, IL, 60523, USA; main phone number 1-630-320-7000. All e-mail addresses stay the same. We look forward to hearing from you.
Jane S. Gerold, Editorial Director, email@example.com