Ethernet on the Shop Floor

Arthur Cole

Most of the time we talk about ethernet, it's in the context of the datacenter, the front office or the WAN. But there's been a lot of activity of late aimed at wiring up the manufacturing floor as well.


In fact, judging by a quick scan of the recent announcements, the industrial Ethernet space is seeing a lot more action than the traditional enterprise. Data from ARC Advisory Group indicates that the market is slated to grow by 51.4 percent a year through 2009.


One trend that probably can't be helped no matter what kind of data you're moving is the need for wider pipelines. And as the number of Ethernet devices increases on the shop floor, the need for Gigabit switching is set to rise. Increasingly large switches will be needed to handle data flowing from the plant floor to SCADA systems and the enterprise, along with things like increased messaging, peer-to-peer synchronization and real-time application delivery.


Chip-level developments are driving much of the industrial Ethernet advancements as well. Altera Corp. recently introduced the Cyclone series of FPGAs, which give OEMs the ability to implement a broad range of communications protocols using a single hardware design. The Cyclone can be programmed with the IXXAT Ethernet development kit, which includes a reference design and evaluation board, executable protocol stacks and a host API in source code.


Other brand new systems include the XPress-Pro SW series switch from Lantronix, a five- or eight-port device that delivers Ethernet service over 10/100 Base T or multimode fiber up to 2 km, and the CompactPCI network controller from MEN Micro, outfitted with the company's Quad Fast Ethernet system suitable for multiple network configurations.


With industrial operations calling for sophisticated coordination between any number of groups, including third-party systems integrators, it's no wonder that the industry is adopting the same network technology that the rest of the business world is already using. If Ethernet can reduce the cost of selling products, it should do wonders for the cost of making them.

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