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Hubert Kirrmann is Senior Principal Scientist at ABB Switzerland, Corporate Research, which he joined 1979. He also teaches at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne on Industrial Automation. His research topics include fault tolerant computing, industrial networks and tools for simulation and emulation. He is member of IEEE.

Discussion subject:

Industrial Networks – the way out of the labyrinth

Abstract:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the field bus war ended with 8 competing solutions, Ethernet was perceived as the unifying solution for industrial networks. These hopes were smashed by the emergence of some 24 different networks that all claim to be standard, real-time industrial Ethernet, but which are unable to provide compatibility or even a migration path. In addition to the protocol, several redundancy and safety solutions emerged, multiplying the variants. Ethernet has not even been able to stop the progression of the traditional field busses, which enjoy still growing popularity.

The reasons for this plethora are hardly technical, and market forces have been unable to select the fittest solutions. As plants increasingly are composed “à la carte” of parts delivered by different suppliers. industry spends several hundreds of millions of € developing network adapters, gateways, protocol converters and integrated engineering tools. Due to the longevity of industrial products, there is no hope that this situation will change.

The answer of industry is to design control systems independently from data communication. This calls for detailed application standards modelling the application objects. This formal definition goes hand in hand with the definition of transfer formats for the information exchange between devices and engineering, and between engineering tools. At some point during engineering, a mapping to a given communication network is required, so the whole layer between primary technology and OPC servers becomes interchangeable. Electrical substation automation has gone a long way down this road with IEC 61850, whose major contribution is the formal definition of objects such as circuit breakers, transformers or wind mills. The process industry has yet to catch up, but progress is made through standards such as CAEX (IEC 62424) and Automation ML.