Networking: Cisco, Rockwell partner on Ethernet ‘reference architectures’

Networking: Cisco, Rockwell partner on Ethernet ‘reference architectures’Hannover, Germany—Using HannoverFair 2007 as a backdrop, Rockwell Automation and Cisco Systems announced a plan to collaborate on helping customers use Ethernet to “integrate manufacturing and IT for seamless connectivity throughout the enterprise.”

By Control Engineering Staff April 16, 2007

Hannover , Germany —Using Hannover Fair 2007 as a backdrop, Rockwell Automation and Cisco Systems announced a plan to collaborate on helping customers use Ethernet to “integrate manufacturing and IT for seamless connectivity throughout the enterprise.” The agreement, which is the result of industrial networking meetings with customers conducted jointly last year, includes the creation of “reference architectures” and commitments to ongoing user education.

Reference architectures are free “recipes” for integration that combine technical training and best practices to create detailed how-to documents on the use and implementation of EtherNet/IP networks. They’re based on work that Cisco has done for other industries and are expected help manufacturing IT and plant floor people work together to achieve visibility, flexibility, and collaboration throughout the enterprise.

Rockwell Automation brings plant-floor expertise in power, control and information solutions to this collaboration, while Cisco offers IT networking implementation knowledge gleaned from industries like real-time medical imaging. Input from their customers highlighted the need for better communication between these two groups for information integration to be achieved.

The customer meetings brought together plant floor and IT people who had never met, even though they might work for the same company, said Joe Kann, vice president of global business development for Rockwell Automation. Knowledge, skill sets and even the language used “are so dramatically different,” said Kann, that “even though these issues are solvable, having a technical conversation is tough.”

The two companies expect to offer a series of educational seminars and whitepapers to help organizations implement change and bridge the divide. Customers advised that establishing dialogue between the two departments is key to better understanding potential risks for each and, ultimately, to successful network integration.

“Customers are telling us they want a joint reference architecture that can support both the office network environment and the factory floor,” says Paul McNab, vice president of enterprise marketing for Cisco. “Both plant and IT managers need to have secure, real-time visibility between the production floor and enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and supply chain management systems. This network architecture will allow manufacturers to achieve real-time visibility with a secure controls network using Ethernet.”

Validated, lab-tested architectures are aimed at enabling the successful deployment of Ethernet based production networks and secure integration with the rest of the enterprise. This, says Mark Wylie, technology partner for Cisco, will be a sort of design implementation guide for how to configure, interconnect, and effectively scale an Ethernet/IP network. The first of these documents is expected to be available online by end of May.

Rockwell Automation and Cisco both are leading members of ODVA, which supports the EtherNet/IP standard , unmodified Ethernet and CIP (Common Industrial Protocol). By bringing together CIP capabilities, EtherNet/IP enables companies to integrate automation equipment, simplifying the overall system architecture and enabling direct communication between enterprise and factory floor devices.This open network architecture leads to reduced costs, improved productivity, and time efficiencies.

The two companies will continue to seek advice from customers to provide input on IT and manufacturing challenges, priorities, and desired solutions. Future efforts also will address customer requests to help leverage common open technology with security and reliability, while meeting the varied requirements across functions.

“Use of standard, unmodified Ethernet is a key differentiator within the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture,” said a Rockwell spokesman. Use of unmodified Ethernet helps customers who are looking for true interoperability, he said, and the efforts of ODVA are supporting that as well. He noted the fact that Schneider Electric recently increased its participation in ODVA, joining Cisco, Rockwell, Eaton Electrical, and Omron Corp. as “principal members.” As a result, ODVA agreed to extend CIP Network specifications to increase compatibility between Modbus/TCP devices and CIP based networks.

For more on the Schneider Electric announcement, see “Ethernet/IP: Schneider Electric now ODVA‘principal member’ ”

Mark T. Hoske, editor in chief

Control Engineering Daily News Desk; Control Engineering ’s Renee Robbins also contributed to this story.