The evolving Ethernet

Ethernet continues to evolve and it brings up many new challenges and opportunities for automation engineers.

10/13/2013


Ethernet has come a long way since the days of 10BASE5 and 10BASE2. While editing the cover story for this issue, I couldn’t help remembering a job I had in the early 1980s. I supervised an engineering group that maintained the automated test equipment, computers, and network on the plant floor. 

Many of the challenges my group faced involved keeping the network up. More than a dozen printed circuit board (PCB) test stations and as many repair/rework stations shared a 10BASE2 network. Throw in a couple of minicomputers to manage the PCB pass/fail database and generate reports for management, and watch the network go down at least 15 times each shift.

This scenario is simple for the Ethernet of today. For the 10BASE2 we had to use in 1983, not so much. At least we could use BNC T-connectors; they weren’t allowed with 10BASE5. Also, the maximum number of 10BASE2 nodes was limited to 30. And this was a multidrop trunk—no determinism meant data collision city. 

In addition to making 10BASE2 and 10BASE5 virtually obsolete, Ethernet over twisted pair simplified cabling and transmission issues. Routers, switches, and gateways solved the determinism and collision issues. And data transmission speeds: comparing the 10 Mbit/sec from back in the day with the 10 Gbit/sec that Ethernet IEEE 802.3 can support today makes me wish we had this technology 30 years ago.

The evolution that has made Ethernet the dominant commercial network for nearly 40 years will continue to open doors for industries that take advantage of the best that automation has to offer.

This article appears in the Applied Automation supplement for Control Engineering and Plant Engineering



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