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EtherCAT: the rock in the surf of digital transformation
Technews Industry Guide: Industrial Internet of Things & Industry 4.0, Fieldbus & Industrial Networking
Industry 4.0 is the digital transformation that is characterised as the fourth industrial revolution. The perception of a revolution is that it is a fast process, dramatically changing the current situation within months, not years. However, industrial revolutions are comparatively slow processes. The first industrial revolution – the transition from agricultural to industrial society – took over 100 years. Although the fourth revolution is much faster, it is also a process that will take decades to become fully operational.
A large part of Industry 4.0’s concepts and approaches are based on industrial communication: data must be collected at the manufacturing processes, condensed and then sent upwards into databases, towards servers, and into cloud based systems. Conversely, commands and recipes are sent to the machine and plant controllers, which then implement and execute them. In order to manage and control this amount of data, a hierarchical architecture and structure is required. At the field level, it is important to communicate in hard real-time, whereas further up the time requirements are more relaxed. And currently, in particular at the level between the controllers, servers and Internet services, much is still unclear with regards to the communication technologies. OPC UA with its different protocol variants continues to gain ground at this level, but device profiles and real-time capability are still missing. TSN is a promising emerging technology, but it is not yet finalised, and there is still specification work to be done, especially for the system configuration. Different cloud protocols, encoding schemes and cloud providers are competing and unified interfaces have not yet been established.
So it is good that things look different at the field level: EtherCAT is stable, widely adopted and ideally prepared for the challenges of digital transformation. The EtherCAT technology has outstanding characteristics, including leading performance, high flexibility and open interfaces. As a result, EtherCAT is inherently suited to meet and exceed the requirements of the digital transformation. The exceptional performance of the technology allows one to add Big Data applications to control networks. In addition, the flexibility of EtherCAT makes it possible to establish cloud connectivity in existing systems without having to alter the control system, or manually update the network devices. The open interfaces permit the easy integration of any IT-based protocol within the master, or directly into the slave devices. Ultimately, this enables direct connection from the sensor to the cloud without protocol discontinuities, regardless of which protocol eventually becomes the winner on the level above the EtherCAT system.
For more information contact EtherCAT Technology Group, +49 911 540 56 226, email@example.com, www.ethercat.org
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