Industrial Ethernet: implementation advice

By Control Engineering Staff November 13, 2006

Just as there are choices in industrial networks, various protocols have emerged to serve the industrial Ethernet space. Network experts gathered in Chicago last month at Siemens ’ invitation to discuss trends and offer advice. “Don’t wait” seemed to be a recurring theme among speakers at the two-day Chicago conference.

“People are really looking at how to implement industrial Ethernet, trying to figure out what to use, thinking about what applications to connect, as people drive to one network for all experiences and functions,” said Jeremy Bryant, automation market network specialist, Siemens Energy & Automation . Bryant admitted that one network protocol cannot yet handle all needs, but noted advantages and savings in using one physical layer, Ethernet, for multiple purposes. Architectures can be designed “flatter,” with perhaps two or three network layers, instead of three or four, he told Control Engineering , before the start of the 3rd International Industrial Ethernet Symposium. It was the first time the meeting was held in the U.S.

Jeff Howe, Siemens product business manager, network products, suggested that people are looking differently at their available industrial network options, compared to a few years ago. “Ethernet was born in the U.S., and probably has the fastest industrial technology adoption rate in the world.” He said some customers have expressed frustration at the proliferation of Ethernet protocols, but noted the need to realize the capabilities of each. As with industrial networks, he suggested, there will be some consolidation. However, those who wait for that consolidation will miss opportunities for greater overall efficiencies and may even fall behind competitively, Howe said.

“If you’re not careful you will spend next 10 years working on small technical issues. Step out of a certain mindset, away from reactive behaviors, so you can see the bigger issues,” explained keynote speaker, Collins Hemingway, president Escape Velocity Ventures Inc. Hemingway, who worked at Microsoft for 12 years and co-authored “Business at the Speed of Thought” with Bill Gates, warned, “Every team, every department is going to change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 50. Welcome to adaptive commerce.” That means operational agility is more important than strategic-tactical issues. Workers need to assume the unexpected, act, and react, with SWAT teams, not armies, using a more decentralized, orientation based on more customer feedback, he said. “Think more of NBA basketball, than NFL football. You must look, react, move, and change—non-stop. At Microsoft, my number-one challenge was to explain that chaos is normal. If you accept that, you know that chaos is not your fault.”

Appropriate interactions with other areas of the organization results in semi-permeable membranes, rather than walls. Joint strategies, rather than cost cutting, create more savings. Redesigning a part might save 20% in manufacturing time, Hemingway said, as opposed to perhaps a maximum of 5% by speeding up a line. Invite criticism from everyone to increase learning capability.

Harry Forbes, senior analyst at ARC Advisory Group , cited research that expects 50% growth in industrial Ethernet equipment shipments, 2004-2009. The increase, he said, is pushing networks onto the factory floor where they hadn’t been before; adding value with converged, modular automation; and offering global information availability for safety, security, long-term legacy support, more collaboration, wireless, and remote access. Ethernet is more of a utility for interconnected services. Forbes suggested that a common question now is: “Would you like Ethernet with that device?”

Dan Miklovic, Gartner , managing vice president, manufacturing industry advisory services, said there’s a greater need for real-time plant information and collaboration with greater Ethernet use. “Corporate IT and plant IT are really just different sides of the same coin. The single mission is to make things that people want to buy. It’s about synchronization, not alignment,” Miklovic said. Knowing the speed of data gathering and transactions for each is key. Organizations should close the loops among plant, technical, and business IT, said Miklovic. Supply chain systems often tell more about what’s outside than what’s inside the factory. He said organizations should design for manufacture, match orders with manufacturing capability, and manage where products are. For example, closed-loop operations reduced operating costs 57% in one water treatment plant from fewer call-ins, lower overtime costs, and fewer outages, Miklovic says.

Search on industrial Ethernet atop any page at for more on that topic or others related to industrial automation. Also read: “’ Ethernet’ isn’t a protocol; something needs to run in the wire. ”

Watch for original Control Engineering research on Ethernet protocols’ market shares and trends in the December 2006 issue at .

Mark T. Hoske , Control Engineering editor in chief