Networking: Industrial Ethernet expands globally, SmartMotor shows a way

Adoption of Ethernet in industrial settings is expanding globally, with evidence coming by report and by example.


Natick, MA, and Santa Clara, CA —Adoption of Ethernet in industrial settings is expanding globally, with evidence coming by report and by example. Research firm Venture Development Corp. (VDC) puts the global wireline industrial network infrastructure market at $1.7 billion, and expects an almost 25% compound annual growth rate through 2011—largely due to expected Asia-Pacific purchases of industrial Ethernet products. Automation vendors are taking note, and embedding Ethernet into their products at high rates. Case in point: California-based Animatics Corp. reported saving time and resources by integrating Lantronix XPort Ethernet networking module into its servo motors.

Industrial technologies are helping expand the world’s $1.7 billion industrial wireline networking infrastructure market, according to a VDC research study. Of three regions in the research (Asia-Pacific; Europe, Middle East, Africa; and the Americas), the highest overall market growth rate through 2011 is forecast for Asia-Pacific and much of the investment is being directed toward Ethernet-based networking products.

Industrial network shipments to Asia-Pacific markets were $298 million in 2006, according to VDC. Of that total, 76% were products for Ethernet networks, and the Ethernet share is forecast to increase to over 81% of a $1 billion market in 2011. These are the highest Ethernet shares among the three regions. Bus and network use in the other two regions is more established and harder to displace, though Ethernet shares there also are expected to increase, VDC says.

Putting Ethernet to work, the Animatics Corp. SmartMotor serves as a programmable motion module used in diverse automation applications. To make it easier for machine builders to use, the servo motor integrates a drive with precise, computer controlled motion, independent programmability, low cost, and compact form factor to eliminate control cabinets. External requirements are limited to power and a network connection.

When Animatics engineers decided the SmartMotor required Ethernet communications, they found the generally available hardware and software solutions to be too bulky, complicated, and expensive. And while Ethernet cards that plug into a PC appear simple, they relegate most functionality to the PC. For this embedded system, the company wanted a stand-alone technology with multiple integrated circuits and significant printed circuit board space, within limited space and budget constraints.

Animatics found the Lantronix XPort embedded networking module. XPort provides networking processor hardware and software for Ethernet network Internet connections in a compact, integrated package, and adding the module required very little development time. To integrate it, engineers: 1) attached the XPort to the back of the motor, 2) connected it to the logic power and to the universal asynchronous receiver transmitter (UART) pins of the SmartMotor CPU, and 3) incorporated software drivers provided by Lantronix into its PC resident terminal software. Initially, Animatics did not require the SmartMotor to host a Website, but with the XPort’s built-in Web server, the feature proved interesting and valuable for users.

In applications, several motors can coordinate functions on an Ethernet network, allowing Ethernet messages to cause motion or I/O changes or activate pre-programmed algorithms in the motor. Alternately, the one motor also could report data to an upstream monitoring station via XPort, while communicating with other motors via a different network. Later addition of Modbus added functionality without cost or development time.

Control Engineering Website contains more about industrial Ethernet developments .

—Edited by Mark T. Hoske , editor in chief, Control Engineering Weekly News
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