Editor's Choice


Ethernet to the field for process plants

May 2023 Editor's Choice Fieldbus & Industrial Networking

Process plants today compete to produce more products with less waste, as profit margins are under pressure and require increased yield and quality. Digital transformation has made it possible to obtain more plant data from process automation systems and instrumentation, and to use this valuable data from the field level for the optimisation of processes. However, field level connectivity and data access are crucial to support these trends.

Ethernet is the broadly accepted standard for wired digital communications, and is standardised in IEEE 802.3, but it does not adequately meet the requirements of process automation. There are limitations such as low speed, limited bandwidth, and the complexity required by protocol conversions.

Leading process automation suppliers recognised the need of their customers to add the universality and communication speed of standard Ethernet to existing field device installations. Ethernet had been deployed at the upper levels of the automation pyramid and in the field with four-wire Ethernet devices such as drives, flowmeters, analysers and motor control centres; but process plants needed more in order to support applications in the field, and access data from every part of the plant to extract more value from each production run.

To meet this need, in 2018 a key group of standards development organisations worked together with major industry partners like Endress+Hauser to specify an advanced physical layer for Ethernet to meet the requirements of process industries. The players included FieldComm Group, ODVA, the OPC Foundation, PROFIBUS & PROFINET International, as well as major industry suppliers of process automation like Endress+Hauser, ABB, Emerson, Krohne, Pepperl+Fuchs, Phoenix Contact, R. Stahl, Rockwell Automation, Samson, Siemens, Vega, and Yokogawa. Their goal was to accelerate the development and adoption of a new open standard for an Ethernet physical layer for use in process automation and instrumentation, that could be deployed in hazardous areas, allow long-reach connectivity, and include an option for device power over the line.

The new extension of Ethernet technology they came up with was Ethernet-APL, which was designed to be open, future-proof and ready for IIoT. Data from smart instruments in the field level could then be accessed easily for further processing in upper layer applications. Ethernet-APL is based on the IEEE 802.3cg standard, which was developed specifically for use in hazardous areas and enables it to operate over long distances and in harsh environments.

This new Ethernet advanced physical layer, together with the automation protocols that define the structure and meaning of information being transmitted to and from field devices, is becoming one of the key enabling factors for IIoT in process automation. It is a single, ruggedised, and reliable physical layer with attributes that meet the requirements for the field of process plants. Ethernet-APL enables a logical extension of Ethernet-based communications from enterprise systems to the field. It enables long cable lengths and explosion protection via intrinsic safety, with communication and power over two wires. Based on IEEE and IEC standards, Ethernet-APL supports any Ethernet-based automation protocol and is rapidly developing into a single, long-term stable technology for the entire process automation community.

Ethernet-APL is an important development for the process automation industry because it enables customers to use a single networking technology throughout their entire plant, from the field instruments to the control room. This reduces complexity and improves reliability, as customers no longer need to use different networking technologies for different parts of their plant. Ethernet APL also enables customers to use standard Ethernet protocols such as TCP/IP and EtherNet/IP throughout their plant, providing them with a familiar and easy-to-use networking environment.

Engineers from BASF recently evaluated the Ethernet-APL technology over several months in the BASF Ethernet-APL laboratory. They looked at different topologies and applications based on the requirements of BASF’s process plants, and identified many advantages of the new technology. These included simple and flexible installation; easy integration into the DCS; stable and fast Ethernet communication; high availability of the process; plug-and-play device exchange; and data export in the 2nd channel. BASF is convinced that Ethernet-APL is the best technology for future plants. “Using Ethernet-APL technology speeds up workflows and increases efficiency in operations and maintenance, and that‘s exactly what we want,” said BASF’s senior E&I; engineering manager, Gerd Niedermayer. “Fieldbus technologies like PROFIBUS or FOUNDATION Fieldbus will be obsolete with the widespread introduction of Ethernet-APL – we won‘t need them any longer.”


Among the many advantages that are being leveraged by Endress+Hauser are shortened commissioning times and increased maintenance efficiency. By providing seamless access to the data and algorithms of smart instruments through Endress+Hauser’s Heartbeat Technology, the full potential of the instrumentation is exploited, and plant downtimes can be minimised. Another benefit is high plant availability and increased production output with less plant shutdowns. Ethernet-APL is easy to adopt, topology design is flexible, installation is as simple as required and root cause of errors in the network and in devices are easy to troubleshoot.

According to Endress+Hauser, a key benefit for engineers is the flexible and scalable network topology design, while there is no need for hazardous area calculations, and there is high availability due to a variety of redundancy mechanisms. For operators and maintenance personnel, advantages include the increased performance as a result of accurate digital process values, high-speed data transfer, and simple remote device access. Reliability is also optimised as a result of continuous diagnostics, monitoring, and remote verification, with seamless data access. In addition the flexible network design makes it possible to realise different topologies.

Endress+Hauser is at the forefront of the development and implementation of Ethernet-APL, assisting its customers to integrate their field instruments into existing networks. The company’s commitment to the development of Ethernet-APL, and its growing portfolio of Ethernet APL-based solutions, have earned it recognition in the industry. The award-winning Liquiphant vibrating fork level switches were among the first products to incorporate Ethernet-APL. The company now offers a range of Ethernet APL-enabled solutions for plant processing, including sensors, controllers, and instruments for flow, level, pressure and temperature measurement. These solutions are designed to be easy to install and maintain, and can help companies to optimise their plant processing operations.

Endress+Hauser is currently showing users in the process industry how they can create value by looking more closely at their data to gain new insights into their processes and optimise the operation of their plants. The goal is to show users what is possible with data, both today and in the future, and where the limits and dangers lie. Among the many possible applications are explosion hazardous areas, asset management at many measuring points, calibration of analogue communication loops, monitoring and optimisation using the 2nd channel, and easy access to device diagnostics. Plant extensions and migrations to Ethernet-APL are possible in both greenfield and brownfield sites; and Endress+Hauser is also accelerating the digitalisation of process engineering systems with its Netilion IIoT ecosystem, and advanced developments its its Heartbeat Technology, which creates opportunities for gaining insights into sensors and processes.

One example is BP’s Clair Ridge Platform in the North Sea. This is one of the largest offshore oil platforms in the world. The platform uses Ethernet-APL technology from Endress+Hauser to enable real-time monitoring and control of its processes. This allows the platform’s control systems to communicate with sensors and other devices throughout the platform, providing operators with real-time data on the platform’s operations.

Ethernet APL is a game-changer for the process automation industry, and Endress+Hauser is at the cutting edge. As this technology evolves and gains acceptance in the industry, the company will continue to be a leader in the development of innovative and reliable solutions that enable customers to improve their processes and achieve their goals.


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