Exclusive: Industrial network development made easier

New developer community, www.industrialNETworX.com, aims to more quickly advance system-on-a-chip capabilities, integrate multiple industrial protocols, control, I/O, HMI and other functions in one netX ASIC.

By Mark T Hoske March 25, 2010

To lower the high cost and time associated with network development, Hilscher announces the launch of www.industrialNETworX.com today, March 25. In doing so the company donated a large portion of netX and made available other code, about 30 man-years of effort, for the new open-source, developer community.

netX Community home page at www.industrialNETworX.com

More than 150 companies work with Hilscher’s netX, a processor used to communicate with dozens of industrial networks. The "netX Community Platform" targets product managers, operators and developers of automation devices.
Opening the source code and making slave stack software available in the open-source environment will shorten development time for network-enabled products and broaden netX use in more operating systems, such as Linux and Wind River’s VxWorks, says Phil Marshall, business development manager for Hilscher North America Inc. The site includes download area, tutorials, forum, chat rooms, tools for working with the source code and managing revisions, along with areas where work from others can be uploaded and shared. It also has free slave source code for EtherCAT, Modbus/TCP, EtherNet/IP, DeviceNet, CANopen, SERCOS III, Profinet, Profibus, and Ethernet PowerLink.

netX Community wiki at www.industrialNETworX.com

Hilscher began netX ASIC development with a company acquisition about six years ago and had been doing its own related software development. As fieldbuses and other industrial networks have become a commodity, and standards incorporate multiple protocols, it makes more sense to offer multiple protocol stacks in one chip, Marshall says. This allows equipment and instrumentation manufacturers to lower part count, simplify customer inventories, greatly simplify the engineering effort, and ease communication challenges, Marshall suggests.

A word about Hilscher netX software
A $600 Hilscher board can help users decide if this is useful, providing two masters, PCMCIA card, an Ethernet port, and abilities to compile, download, enable, turn on, find the appropriate master, and change I/O connections.
"Using these tools, you can change networks in five minutes, rather than taking three months of development time, so there’s more time for value-added engineering in a company’s core competency," says Hilscher’s Phil Marshall.

Site development
Hans-Jürgen Hilscher, CEO of Hilscher Ges.f.Sys.mbH, and company founder, has been involved in site development as a way for users to enhance technology to do the things they want to do. Hilscher told Control Engineering that he expects the online community to "greatly broaden the stack solutions we offer and allow more OEMs that have specific OS preferences such as VxWorks, Linux, Microsoft Windows CE, etc., to easily utilize our technology, resulting in more products with more network options to end users."
Marshall says, "Proliferation of Ethernet has doubled number of networks and made communications challenges worse, not better, for OEMs. The netX Community offers solutions, flexibility and options. It’s a place where OEMs can get value – proven technology – and viable tools to get where they want to go."

System on a chip: netX
The netX system on a chip offers an Ethernet connection, as many as four fieldbus connections, IEEE 1588 clock for real-time Ethernet protocol capabilities, I/O for motion control, PLC capabilities, and, on the largest chip, an integrated flat-panel driver, Marshall explains: "One chip can do everything," he says.
With four netX chips in production, 154 companies are working with the technology, easing system integration by putting more capabilities in one piece of silicon, Marshall told Control Engineering in February.
"The actual netX chip, about the size of a Euro coin, has a 270- or 360-pin array, definitely an OEM product," Marshall laughs, "not for faint of heart."

netX community day
With the March 25 site announcement, Hilscher held the first netX Community Day during the Automatisierungstreff-workshop in Boeblingen, Germany. These discussions (in German) include architecture, function, interfaces of the protocol stacks and tools available from the netX Community Platform. Hilscher developers explain how to implement and use the protocol stacks in specific applications or on other operating systems. The site, however, is in English. www.industrialNETworX.com

The chip can replace higher priced field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) in many applications, and, Marshall says, with appropriate configuration, offer cost-effective redundancy. "It’s smaller than an FPGA, and we are one company providing hardware and software thus ensuring interoperability. We have put this into a gateway product that in 6 months we have released 160 protocol gateways with a potential of 1,000 conversions possible," he says.
Integrating communications, control, and other capabilities is more cost effective than traditional controllers that may offer separate communications cards or modules adding hundreds of dollars of cost, Marshall says.
While Hilscher retained rights to the master stack, having more developers working in an open-source environment will add value more quickly for those using the technology.

Advantage for Hilscher

Home page for the industrial network open source developers’ site includes tools to decrease time to market by using www.industrialNETworX.com.

A wiki will provide information to industrial network developers from industrial network developers at www.industrialNETworX.com

While opening a developer community will promote faster informationexchange, ultimately more extensive software capabilities will helpHilscher sell more netX ASICs (and, perhaps, other communicationsproducts) with faster adaptations to market changes and upgrades.
Withthe network proliferation resulting from Ethernet expansion, networkwars brought more software opportunities than companies like Hilscherhad time to do. Each protocol modification translates into more on "todo" list. Open-source developers can help with these andapplication-related issues, Marshall suggested.
Customers have soughtmore capabilities than Hilscher developers could quickly provide,Marshall adds. "We have a couple hundred products and cannot meetcustomers’ demands. Many global manufacturers are trying to figure outhow to stay‘reasonably behind’ with their product development efforts.

Ethernet proliferation is driving them crazy. We’re not going to change

the fate of network technologies in the marketplace. We’re making it

easier and more cost-effective for companies to network-enable their

Major automation companies, such as ABB, B&R, BoschRexroth, Turck, Yaskawa, and others, are among Hilscher customers.www.industrialNETworX.com

Also see:
– Bit by bit: Why use serial communications?
– Analyze real time Ethernet networks ; and
– Industrial network channel from Control Engineering .
– Mark T. Hoske, editor in chief, Control Engineering , www.controleng.com