EtherCAT Technology Group’s benefits for manufacturers
The EtherCAT Technology Group is used as the standard for connectivity across many manufacturing industries.
- EtherCAT is part of the IEC 61158 standard and has been around since 2003. There have been no version upgrades since its inception.
- The EtherCAT Technology Group members include device manufacturers, technology providers, system integrators and end users.
The EtherCAT communication standard is a real-time industrial Ethernet technology originally developed by Beckhoff for networking all manner of industrial devices from I/O to sensors to drives. The EtherCAT protocol is part of the IEC 61158 standard and is suitable for hard and soft real-time applications in automation, test and measurement, intralogistics and many other applications.
What is the ETG?
The ETG was formed in 2003 and is now the largest fieldbus association in the world – and it remains the fastest growing organization of its type. The ETG consists of 6,000 companies from 69 countries have joined forces to support the technology.
ETG members include device manufacturers, technology providers, system integrators and end users. Having end users as a part of a fieldbus organization is unique and they have brought many benefits to EtherCAT technology because an end user has different motivations than a device manufacturer. End users want technologies to remain simple, easy to use and deploy, and extremely reliable.
The purpose of the ETG is to support, promote, advance, and protect the EtherCAT technology. By “protect,” we do not mean to protect market share but rather to protect the sanctity of the protocol. After 18 years, there are no variants of the EtherCAT protocol, only functional enhancements for gigabit Ethernet, machine safety and one cable connections. To date, there is only one revision: EtherCAT version 1, since ETG enhanced, but never changed, the underlying technology.
The ETG has always taken conformity and interoperability seriously and goes to great lengths to maintain this with the many vendors of controller and device-level products. Facilitating interoperability between fieldbus devices is complex. Interoperability means the practical ability of all field devices in the same network to interact among each other, even if they come from many different manufacturers. Because of the ETG’s work, this has not happened by accident in the case of EtherCAT.
Where can you find the ETG?
The ETG is headquartered in Nuremberg in southern Germany with four other offices throughout the world, including the U.S., China, Korea, and Japan. With three offices in the region, EtherCAT is incredibly popular in Asia. The ETG has many Technical Working Groups (TWGs), and members are strongly encouraged to provide guidance and support to the TWGs. The most popular is the TWG Semi, which has been active for 10 years and addresses device profiles, installation guidelines, and device conformance tests to meet the special requirements of the semiconductor industry.
The ETG sponsors various activities to spread the word and maintain communication with users and vendors of the technology. All these activities are focused on one common goal: keeping EtherCAT stable and interoperable. The activities include:
- Seminars to introduce the technology.
- Device and controller development workshops to educate those who want to implement the technology.
- Interoperability workshops called EtherCAT Plug Fests where control and device vendors gather for two days to verify interoperability. The plug fests aim to connect all field devices to one network, and one controller at a time is connected to the network to verify compatibility.
ETG’s role in improving industrial automation
One of the more recent initiatives of the ETG is to encourage people who are thinking about a new control system to consider the fieldbus first, rather than the controller. It makes no sense to have a powerful processor without the means to communicate effectively to field devices. A popular analogy is a Formula 1 car that has a massive engine but bicycle tires for wheels. High synchronization between a controller and the field is critical for high-performance systems, especially in motion control applications.
All this can be accomplished with standard off-the-shelf, low-cost Ethernet components; there is no extra cost for the performance. EtherCAT is often less expensive than traditional fieldbuses and the current lot of other industrial Ethernet protocols – not only because of its cabling efficiency but also because of the huge variety of EtherCAT devices available due to the worldwide acceptance of the technology.
Benefits of an ETG membership
ETG technology is accessible to everyone. It is an international IEC standard that not only stands for openness but also stability. However, members are invited to attend ETG meetings, have access to all technical information, specifications, presentations, and you can influence the direction in which the technology moves next. Membership also is free of charge.
The ETG finds that for many users who take the time to compare technologies in detail, EtherCAT quickly becomes the favorite. The unique functional principle is compelling on many levels and makes EtherCAT ‘the engineer’s choice.’
Robert B. Trask, P.E. is the North American Representative for the EtherCAT Technology Group, a CFE Media and Technology content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, email@example.com.