The Ethernet wars

Profibus vs. FOUNDATION fieldbus; ControlNet vs. Interbus; DeviceNet vs. SDS; Seriplex vs. AS-Interface—the bus wars continue to rage. But a new challenger has changed the battle.Ethernet, a standard in business networking since the mid-1980s, is touted by vendors and users alike as a contender for industrial applications.


Profibus vs. FOUNDATION fieldbus; ControlNet vs. Interbus; DeviceNet vs. SDS; Seriplex vs. AS-Interface—the bus wars continue to rage. But a new challenger has changed the battle.

Ethernet, a standard in business networking since the mid-1980s, is touted by vendors and users alike as a contender for industrial applications. The TCP/IP protocol over Ethernet has become the Internet standard. Recently, organizations responsible for Profibus, ControlNet, and FOUNDATION fieldbus (FF) have announced intentions to support Ethernet and TCP/IP. According to Mike Evensen, director of business development for Hirschmann Network Systems, these groups are getting involved with Ethernet because their users are requesting faster, open, interoperable networking with worldwide support.

Wrapper technology is being used as the fastest way to get traditional fieldbuses on Ethernet. Developers take the core functionality of the network and "wrap" it in a TCP transportation frame, compatible with existing Ethernet infrastructure.

Says Mr. Evensen, "In the short term, the automation marketplace will have competitive TCP/IP solutions that are not interoperable. However, if the physical architecture is the same, there's still a huge benefit to the end-user."

For example, two PLCs running two different application layer protocols, such as FF or Profibus, could sit on the same wire but they could not communicate with each other. Ethernet is merely the transmission highway. As an analogy, coworkers need common application software to share a PC-based file on the company intranet. Similarly, control devices need compatible communication software to share information over the same Ethernet wire.

Additionally, automation applications require network hardware that can withstand harsh demands of the industrial environment. Hirschmann has developed "hardened" Ethernet switches, which are hardware solutions that prevent data collisions on the network. A 10-port switch, that might link one PLC and nine I/O blocks, provides each port with a free access lane to the Ethernet highway.

"For Ethernet to be successful in industrial automation," says Mr. Evensen, "you must have these three things:

  • Fast Ethernet (100 Mbit/sec) to guarantee performance;

  • Ethernet switching to prevent collisions; and,

  • A prioritization scheme to deliver determinism."

Control manufacturers, in the near term, will deliver solutions based on traditional networks, even if they do run on Ethernet. This will provide competitive differentiation among different vendors' products. In the future, however, we may see adoption of a standard Ethernet application protocol for automation. Whether it's FF, Profibus, ControlNet, or one of the dozen or so current and future options remains to be defined.

Connect and be counted

In the interim, Control Engineering wants to know what networks you use in your automation applications. This month we are mailing an Industrial Networking survey to a 10% sample of our readers. If you receive the survey, please take a few minutes to complete it and send it back. Other readers who would like to participate can complete the survey on our web site at . We'll award a Palm Pilot in a random drawing of web site survey participants.

Results will be published in a special report to our readers with our March 1999 issue. Thank you for participating in a survey designed to define the industrial networking marketplace. Your answers will help deliver better solutions for your networking systems.

Author Information

Jane S. Gerold, Editorial Director

No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
The System Integrator Giants program lists the top 100 system integrators among companies listed in CFE Media's Global System Integrator Database.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
This eGuide illustrates solutions, applications and benefits of machine vision systems.
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
System integration: Best practices and technologies to help; Virtualization virtues; Cyber security advice; Motor system efficiency, savings; Product exclusives; Road to Hannover
Collaborative robotics: How to improve safety, return on investment; Industrial Internet of Things, Industrie 4.0: World views; High-performance HMI, Information Integration: OPC and OMG
9 tips: How to integrate a servo system; Process control mathematical models; Serial network grounding; Engineers' Choice Awards; Learn from cyber security mistakes
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
PLCs, robots, and the quest for a single controller; how OEE is key to automation solutions.
This article collection contains several articles on improving the use of PID.
Learn how Industry 4.0 adds supply chain efficiency, optimizes pricing, improves quality, and more.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

Getting to the bottom of subsea repairs: Older pipelines need more attention, and operators need a repair strategy; OTC preview; Offshore production difficult - and crucial
Digital oilfields: Integrated HMI/SCADA systems enable smarter data acquisition; Real-world impact of simulation; Electric actuator technology prospers in production fields
Special report: U.S. natural gas; LNG transport technologies evolve to meet market demand; Understanding new methane regulations; Predictive maintenance for gas pipeline compressors
click me