Fill in the blank and repeat after me: “My name is ______________, and I am a network holdout. I admit I haven’t taken the initiative to implement the latest network technologies in all practical locations. As a result, my communications have become slow and unmanageable. In the past, I’ve blamed standards committees and ‘bus wars’ for my problems. Now I realize I need to go outside each island of automation and connect to a power greater than my own—industrial, plant, and enterprise-wide communications.”
Use a “Twelve Step” program if you need to, but realize the benefits of network communications:
Get over it, if you’re waiting for one universal industrial network. Even the standards organizations seem to be realizing a single interoperable network won’t happen. A recent International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) committee action added more networks to the proposed IEC 61158 standard (see News).
Dick Caro, chairman of fieldbus standards committees for ISA and the IEC, told Control Engineering that IEC 61158 needs to move ahead quickly amid the Ethernet stampede. “All of this standards work is almost moot; we’re trailing Moore’s Law” and the innovation that brings, he suggests.
“Proposals exist to extend standards work to the Ethernet area, to move ahead and make things interoperable there.” Multiple industrial networks have developed incompatible ways of communicating over the Ethernet physical medium. Mr. Caro says future Ethernet standards—because protocol already exists—should be quicker than those for field networks. Even so, he says, he doesn’t expect people to wait for committees.
Just use it. Control engineers just want to use Ethernet—the communications medium of the Internet—and the industrial equipment that plugs into it. “It was a real pain in original process control systems to try to build cascade loops from one network to another. There’s no need for control engineers to understand the hubs and switches of Ethernet communications technology—they have a whole IT department to do that,” Mr. Caro says.
Expect challenges. Benefits, while real, aren’t always as simple as plug and play—even though interoperability, certification, and compliance testing are meant to ensure some measure of device compatibility. For instance, the definable portion of the Fieldbus Foundation 31.25 kbit/sec protocol still allows devices to interoperate, but some vendors’specific features may not translate to other vendors’ devices. Undefined areas of other network protocols also add flexibility, but pose similar integration challenges.
Realize the advantages of the “Open Road,” including commercial technologies. This issue’s two cover articles explore how standards—formal or de facto —help ensure that all devices within an open architecture speak the same language. Senior Editor Dick Johnson says, “Ability to share data seamlessly is crucial to open system operation.” Senior Editor Gary Mintchell explains “open” means that users can select controllers, an industrial network, and I/O modules from various vendors. “Should support be lacking for a component or prices dramatically rise, then the user can choose another vendor with a product that easily fits into the system.”
With competition redefining itself daily, who can afford not to parlay data into information thoughout the enterprise, and back again? Get the help you need, take the required steps, and enjoy the spiritual awakening of network communications.
|Mark T. Hoske, Editor-in-Chief email@example.com|