Innovation is better without disruption
Innovation within technology is better done without disruption and versioning issues, which is what EtherCAT strives to achieve.
- Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of disruption in manufacturing.
- Learn how EtherCAT has been innovating without causing disruption.
- Innovation within technology is better done without disruption and versioning issues.
- EtherCAT has stuck to one version throughout its entire history, which prevents users from having to make constant disruptive changes.
“Disruption” is great for inspiring venture capitalists for a startup – hardly anybody tries to find money without “disruption” anymore. For some, “disruption” – in the sense of breaking things up for the sake of change – seems to be valuable in of itself. The fact most disruptive ideas then turn into failures… well, investors can tell you a thing or two about it.
When talking to automation system users, disruption is the last thing they want: “Never change a running system” is the mantra. It amazes me how much disruption is expected of the users of some industrial communication technologies – and here I can have my say: For more than 30 years, I have been involved with fieldbus systems and Industrial Ethernet, in associations, at congresses and in seminars, in international standardization and in many discussions with manufacturers and users.
Many have already experienced how simply the introduction of how a not backward-compatible protocol version is disruptive in a negative sense. Anyone who has ever had to replace a defective device in an older system knows what I am talking about. First, users must identify the protocol version, then find the matching firmware and a hardware version that runs that firmware. Then users find out that the firmware must be downloaded via serial port, which the current notebook doesn’t have at all. And once that’s solved, it turns out that the old firmware download tool only runs on Microsoft Windows XP – to the delight of the IT department.
EtherCAT staying the same
If that’s not enough, you can look forward to time-sensitive networking (TSN)-based fieldbuses. TSN means new hardware for all network components, new configuration and diagnostic tools, a completely new technology generation without practical field experience, vendor and product variety and with a very narrow migration path: only the application program can be migrated.
By the way, this also be kept when changing to EtherCAT, which relies on stability, with careful and backward-compatible expansion at the same time. Since we have never changed the EtherCAT protocol, but only enhanced it, today’s devices can easily be integrated into EtherCAT networks from 2004 without having to worry about the protocol version.
Even the latest extension of EtherCAT will follow this pattern: with EtherCAT G and EtherCAT G10, we will provide especially “data hungry” devices with the desired bandwidth of up to 10 Gb/s without making the variety of existing EtherCAT devices obsolete. The truth is, the EtherCAT branch controllers enable most EtherCAT devices to stick to the more robust 100 Mb/s transmission physics. Users also will still benefit from the significantly increased network performance thanks to parallelization.
Instead of turning EtherCAT upside down by TSN technologies, we will use TSN where it belongs: in the multiprotocol Ethernet network above the controller. This approach also will enable real-time access to the process data from there without having to be disruptive in the bad sense of the word.
That said, we absolutely need innovation. If the innovation then turns out to be so groundbreaking and advantageous that it is also disruptive, we’ll embrace that, too.
For example, I appreciated writing this article on a PC and not a typewriter. EtherCAT has also contributed to the replacement of the classic fieldbuses due to its user advantages and has led to the discontinuation of many other industrial Ethernet technologies. Innovation within technology is better done without disruption and versioning issues: with EtherCAT, we show how this works.
Martin Rostan is the executive director of the EtherCAT Technology Group, a CFE Media and Technology content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology, email@example.com.
Keywords: Ethercat, innovation, ethernet
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