By : Jim Pinto,
By : Jim Pinto,
Today there are lots of network alternatives – not only for business, but also for factory and process installations. The plethora of choices available today makes decisions difficult. The wireless conectivity paradigm is emerging, and the implications are nothing short of revolutionary. It's important to have a strategy going forward.
Automation World, December 2005 as Wireless Revolution.
Automation companies constantly striving to achieve competitive advantage have lots of network alternatives – not only for business, but also for factory and process installations. The plethora of choices available today makes decisions difficult. It's important to have a strategy going forward.
Ethernet is everywhere in the business environment. In factory and process automation it even extends down to the device level. Industrial versions of Ethernet offer more rugged hardware, industrial protocols and real-time TCP/IP extensions. The question of whether Ethernet will penetrate down to the field level has become closely linked with real-time issues, plus service, calibration and diagnostic messaging within the device itself.
Extensions of the old Fieldbus warsIn industrial automation the old Fieldbus wars have given way to the dissemination of several competing standards based on physical distance, speed of operation, real-time capabilities and other application-specific requirements. In the quest to attract wider usage and interoperability, most proprietary networks have become “open” standards.
Most suppliers profess to support all major industrial networks to provide the device interoperability which end-users expect. But some skirmishes continue – e.g. the battle between EDDL and FDT/DTM solutions for manufacturer-independent integration of field devices. In my opinion the objections are not related to technical performance, but are primarily commercial – coming from leaders who want to retain their advantages rather than diffuse them by allowing competitors to participate through a technical “back door”.
The Wireless RevolutionThese battles pale into insignificance when one considers what’s on the horizon – the next big inflection point. Just as the Internet allows access to digital information anywhere, wireless sensor networks will provide vast arrays of real-time, remote interaction with the physical world. The industrial automation business will be generating significant growth in this new arena. Wireless connectivity is already wide spread in office and consumer environments and industrial automation is moving quickly to take advantage of the overwhelming benefits. A bewildering variety of technology choices are available – here’s a summary:
The future of the industrial automation environment holds the potential for inexpensive, yet significant, installation of sensors throughout a plant to yield a vast array of information to improve operations and profitability. Companies and products that fail to exploit this next wave of the digital revolution will simply obsolete themselves.
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