A critical decision confronted industrial automation companies near the end of the 20th century: Would they develop network architectures based on the open standards supported by the Internet Protocol? Or would they stay with traditional proprietary networks?
This was no snap judgment. Industrial settings require a rugged network to support the rigorous demands of manufacturing processes. Everyone agreed that off-the-shelf Ethernet – the main medium for IT communications in offices and homes worldwide – couldn’t withstand the often-harsh conditions on plant floors.
Some companies also believed that Ethernet and the Internet Protocol (IP) would never develop far enough or fast enough to handle industrial applications. So they continued to invest in proprietary networks.
But another group of automation providers decided to join the rest of the digital world. They began developing a new generation of industrial hardware and software, all based on IP technology. Rockwell Automation helped lead this movement with the introduction of EtherNet/IP (industrial protocol), designed for use in process control and other industrial automation applications.
Back in the 1990s, the decision to go IP-centric carried some risk. IP communication wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. And the technologies supporting it were far from ready to meet the demanding manufacturing requirements of motion control, routable networks and managed switches.
But Rockwell Automation and its industry partners in ODVA – the international association that now manages EtherNet/IP as an open communications protocol – recognized that Industrial IP provided the best potential path to the future. Specifically, EtherNet/IP was designed to support the interoperability of many machines and devices in a manufacturing plant, while providing seamless connectivity across the entire enterprise.
Along with those technical capabilities, EtherNet/IP came with hardened hardware, ruggedized cabling and other “industrial” strength equipment.
Today, EtherNet/IP – combined with further advances, including the Common Industrial Protocol (CIP) – supports even the most complex manufacturing operations. Moreover, manufacturers who rely on EtherNet/IP can take advantage of the many innovative IP-compatible technologies that have been developed for the commercial world – and are quickly migrating to the plant floor.
Video cameras, RFID readers, digital tablets, security swipe-cards – these open-standard, IP-enabled devices and others are helping manufacturing and process operations reach new heights of production quality, efficiency, security and safety. Many more intelligent – and increasingly small – devices are expected to emerge and become part of the Internet of Things over the next 10 to 15 years.
The overwhelming majority of these digital things will naturally depend on IP because of its overarching interoperability. Such cross-device connectivity can’t happen on proprietary systems and their multiple isolated networks – unless manufacturers invest in additional hardware like gateways, protocol converters or proprietary switching to encapsulate standard IP traffic and restrict it to predefined timeslots.
Internet Protocol also ensures the coexistence of many data services on the same port in a single device. This allows for greater flexibility in the types of services and communications that a device offers.
This kind of scalability will continue to be critical as technologies evolve. One example is the migration from IPv4 to IPv6. The innovations to come with IPv6 – such as new discovery protocols, and advanced methods of handling and allocating addresses – will naturally migrate for users of EtherNet/IP because of its natural interconnectivity with IP technologies.
Manufacturers around the world have adopted EtherNet/IP as their information infrastructure, and hundreds of vendors offer thousands of product lines for EtherNet/IP. More importantly, EtherNet/IP allows industrial users to seamlessly connect to the proliferation of digital devices that promises to revolutionize industrial production through the ubiquitous interconnectivity of IP.
To learn more about the benefits of EtherNet/IP, sign up for the Industrial IP Advantage industrial network design training here.