Are there too many industrial networking protocols?

Most people would give an emphatic yes. Alternatives that use only one networking strategy (Ethernet) are at hand. Video: Bernie Anger and Carl Henning discuss one specific solution.


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Bernie Anger (GE) and Carl Henning (PINA) discuss networking with Peter Welander.

The idea that Ethernet deployments are growing in industrial networks isn’t exactly news, but one group is saying that its industrial Ethernet protocol is ready to replace many other networking approaches, and perhaps all of them. Profinet International North America (PINA) recently sponsored a conference in cooperation with Siemens Industry and General Electric Intelligent Platforms to advance the notion that Ethernet in general, and Profinet specifically, can replace most if not all other shop-floor networking protocols. Siemens and GE both say they are doing that very thing today.

The contention is that companies can realize substantial savings and simplify maintenance if they make the transition to Profinet at all levels, from individual field devices and sensors, right up to the enterprise. There are some qualifications of course. At present this sort of approach is much more suited to discrete manufacturing than a process plant. An auto assembly context is more practical than a refinery for a number of reasons, both hardware and software related.

Moreover, the cloud and Internet are becoming standard solutions and it’s only a matter of time, and probably less than you might expect, that such things will be supporting your plant. As Bernie Anger, general manager of control and communication systems for GE Intelligent Platforms pointed out, Skype has proven that it is possible to have secure point-to-point communication via the cloud and without any infrastructure. His suggestion that by 2020 there will be 75 billion devices connected to the Internet means that some of those will undoubtedly be in your plant.

The video is a conversation with Anger and Carl Henning, deputy director, PINA, about some of the practical implications of this idea. Whether you use Profinet or some other flavor of industrial Ethernet protocol, the message is clear. The basic nature of networking is changing, and it is a major improvement.

Peter Welander,

Anonymous , 04/30/13 12:56 PM:

Carl makes an important point that Ethernet is not taking the place of the H1 fieldbus network level.

Ethernet with TCP/IP can be considered as an alternative to RS485-based etc. H2 fieldbuses for distributed peripherals like remote I/O, motor drives, and gateways at level 1-1/2 of the Purdue reference model, such as in marshalling rooms and MCC panels. So for every fieldbus protocol, a new generation of corresponding industrial Ethernet protocol is now available; for example, Profinet for Profibus-DP, Modbus/TCP for Modbus/RTU and EtherNet/IP for DeviceNet. HART skipped the RS-485 generation, going straight to Ethernet media with HART-IP.

However, not all components in the plant will offer Ethernet connectivity. Ethernet is not able to take the place of H1 fieldbuses such as 4-20 mA/HART, Foundation fieldbus (H1), or PROFIBUS-PA (mentioned by Carl) running into the field connecting directly to transmitters, analyzers, and valves, etc, at Level 1 of the Purdue reference model. There are several reasons why Ethernet is not taking the place of H1 fieldbuses:

• Copper Ethernet is too short distance
• Fiber optic Ethernet provides no power
• Power over Ethernet (PoE) is not intrinsically safe
• There are thousands of transmitters and valves in a plant so the number of LAN switches mounted in field junction boxes would be impractical
• Fiber optic Ethernet makes device removal/connection for replacement and calibration, etc impractical
• TCP/IP requires IT department involvement for cyber security

The H1 fieldbuses and Ethernet network layers complement each other in the control system just like USB and Ethernet complement each other on a computer – because one size does not fit all.

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