Japan considers EtherCAT, other networks

With more than 108,000 visitors gathered at the System Control Fair 2007 (SCF2007) in Tokyo last November, the EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG) took its first steps toward promoting its unique and advanced technology in Japan. This was the first time the group exhibited its high-speed industrial Ethernet technology there.


With more than 108,000 visitors gathered at the System Control Fair 2007 (SCF2007) in Tokyo last November, the EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG) took its first steps toward promoting its unique and advanced technology in Japan. This was the first time the group exhibited its high-speed industrial Ethernet technology there.


Promotors of other networking standards were also very much in evidence. Mitsubishi and the CC-Link Partner Association (CPLA) revealed their high-speed Ethernet controller network, “CC-Link IE,” on the show floor. Members of ODVA promoted the CIP family of networks, including CompoNet for the sensor/actuator-level network in conjunction with EtherNet/IP. In particular, Omron announced a joint alliance with Fuji Electric Group, Yokogawa, and Hitachi to heavily promote CompoNet and other ODVA networks in Japan. This four-company alliance clearly showed off their intention to counter the convention floor presence of CC-Link, the most powerful network in Japan so far, by promoting CIP-based network interfaces in each exhibition booth.


Separately on the same show floor, Mechatrolink Members Association (MMA), backed by Yaskawa, demonstrated Mechatrolink III, its latest version Ethernet-based high-speed network interface for motion control. Profibus, by contrast, kept a relatively low profile, but Siemens did demonstrate its Isochronous synchronization technology via Profinet.


So what can EtherCAT offer to Japanese motion control engineers now? Commenting on the relevance of EtherCAT, Martin Rostan, ETG executive director, said, “We came into the industry late, so we can show the latest advancements in motion control technologies.”


Since ETG initiated its promotional efforts in late 2003, its user base has expanded quickly. EtherCAT now shares the third market position after CANopen and Profibus in the European market, according to Rostan.


In December 2006, the group opened its Japan regional office in Tokyo, hosted by industrial automation company K.MECS, which distributes Beckhoff products in the Japanese market. About 40 companies were listed as EtherCAT allied members in Japan by the end of 2007, including Hitachi IES, Panasonic (Motor Company, Matsushita Electric Industrial), Sanyo Denki, and Fuji Electric. End users such as Okuma, Amada, Sumitomo Heavy Industries, and Toyota Technical Development have also hopped onto the bandwagon.


“Among them, Hitachi is the most active company in promoting EtherCAT products,” Rostan said. At the ETG booth, Hitachi IES showed a working prototype of EtherCAT-slave AC servo drives (AD Series) connected to its palm-size Linux-based UbiCube controller via CAT5 cable.


Will EtherCAT take off?


Kenichi Karigane, general manager of Hitachi IES Drive Systems Division Product Marketing & Sales Engineering Center, said, “EtherCAT is about to put its foot on the starting line in Japan. Several domestic user companies have begun to materialize their introduction plans.”


But will EtherCAT take off fast? “Not likely,” Karigane added, “because of the exclusivity of the motion control market in Japan. The market, led by major players such as Mitsubishi or Yaskawa, shows a tendency to use enclosed, total motion control systems; their upper-level motion controllers with their original networks link to their own servo drive systems. If you try to replace specifically only the network part with EtherCAT in such a total system environment, it won't happen.”


Also, since domestic users tend to count on domestic manufacturers for choosing upper-level controllers, network interface issues are not often a user concern.


“But, within the limits of consideration of network performance and benefits, it is clear that EtherCAT is an excellent technology for control of multi-axis servo system at ultra-high-speed,” Karigane said. “That's why I guess some Japanese manufacturers may start to develop EtherCAT upper-level controllers, sooner or later.”


By the same token, Karigane added, “to launch EtherCAT in the Japanese market successfully, we need to see PLC-based upper-level controllers, in addition to a variety of suppliers of the slave units, servo controllers and I/Os manufactured by Japanese suppliers. Hitachi will focus on servo controllers at the slave unit level.”





Author Information

Shin Kai ( s.kai@reedbusiness.jp ) is editor-in-chief of Design News Japan, a Reed Business Inc. publication. The 20,000 subscribers of this Japanese-language technical magazine include mechanical- and mechatronics design engineers, manufacturing process engineers, and control/automation engineers.



ODVA Japan members host CIP Forum

According to a report by ARC analyst Shuji Abe, ODVA Japan held a day-long “CIP Forum” in Tokyo at a hotel next door to System Control Fair 2007. More than 300 people attended. The forum, designed to promote the full set of ODVA networking options, was sponsored by Cisco Systems, Rockwell Automation, and Omron, and was supported by eight ODVA member companies including WoodHead Japan, HMS Industrial Networks, Showa Wire Device Technologies, Sick, Japan Widemullar, Hischer Japan, Phoenix Contact, and Wago Japan, who showcased their technologies. Read more in the Nov. 26, 2007, ARC report titled “CompoNet Debuts, and Manufacturers Share Ethernet and Safety Experience at CIP Forum Japan 2007” found online at

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