No deja vu in the ethernet camp

The recent memorandum of understanding creating what is effectively an ethernet consortium could counteract users’ fears over the incompatibility experienced with fieldbus protocols.

When IAONA Europe was founded last year, many experts doubted the applicability of ethernet for industrial communication. Just over one year later, this is no longer the case. End users are now more concerned that the confusion caused by incompatibilities in the fieldbus sector will repeat themselves in the ethernet world.

The possibilities derived from the power of ethernet have stimulated many engineers in development, which has already brought different and incompatible solutions. The Open DeviceNet Vendor Association (ODVA) solution is Ethernet/IP, Siemens and the PNO propagate ProfiNet, while Fieldbus Foundation favours High Speed Ethernet (HSE).

In spite of the fact that the object models and application protocols are differing substantially, it becomes clear that due to the common network technology there are lots of areas which can be worked on together. With the signing of the memorandum of understanding between Industrial Automation Open Networking Alliance (IAONA), Interface for Distributed Automation (IDA) and ODVA, a bridge has been built over one of the rifts in the networking world.

The consortium advocates the use of ethernet and Internet-based communication technologies for industrial automation and has set out objectives, which will harmonise different industrial ethernet solutions. Later this year, working groups will be formed to study such topics as plug and play, IP addressing and conformance testing. IAONA will take the lead and will publish the results as standards.

The three organisations have the long term goal of defining a common interface which will eliminate – from the end users point of view – the differences between the existing real time ethernet protocols and which will guarantee a minimal level of interoperability.

The consensus found between the three organisations gives a stable and fair basis for the incorporation of further organisations. Therefore IAONA has invited PNO and other organisations to join the process of standardisation of industrial ethernet as partners having equal rights under the given constraints. As a next step IAONA intends to actively integrate the end user into the planed activities. The compromise achieved is a victory of reason and shows that it is possible to develop new technologies commonly for the benefit of the user, even between competitors for conformance tests.

Last year’s ISA show in August proved a major turning point for ethernet standardisation. Schneider Electric, an acknowledged leader in the use of ethernet technologies with its Transparent Factory Concept, became a member of the IDA and the IAONA and IDA organisations merged.

Schneider has since acquired Steeplechase, a PC-based control specialist, adding more software software control strategies to its impressive PLC offering. Schneider has pledged to give its PCand PLC-based offerings equal importance and support. Naturally ethernet will play a vital role in all this as it did with Schneider’s implementation at Jaguar’s S-type production line. Following this success, ethernet is sure to feature heavily in future automotive projects.