With the increase in the need, and desire, for machines to communicate with each other in the manufacturing process, ethernet has been making great strides in its adoption and use in automation systems.
Gavin Stoppel, applications manager with Harting’s Smart Networks Infrastructure Product group, said: “Ethernet is making itself the de facto standard for a lot of industrial communications.”
Stoppel sees a merging of communications environments from the office through to the factory. So too does Dr Wiren Perera, vp corporate strategic marketing and LAN solutions. “Industrial Ethernet has been used in corporate networks for some time, but it’s moving towards the shop floor,” he said. “They have chosen a standard means of communication because more important data is being transferred from one environment to the other. The communication has to be seamless, so companies such as Harting are now looking at developing products that start to manage data, as well as transmit it.”
Along with this increased need for more interconnectedness on the factory floor, there have been developments in how the machines are able to communicate with one-another on the shop floor, since each equipment manufacturer has traditionally had their own protocols in place.
Harting has developed Fast Track Switching as a means of supporting all protocols based on Ethernet. According to the company, the switching method ensures that all performance and determinism requirements are met. “Fast Track can recognise the different protocols in use,” Stoppel noted, “and give them priority over standard Ethernet messages. This gives more control over latency and allows the product to meet the different requirements of an automation network.”
Fast Track has a three step approach to networking. In step one, automation frames are detected based on the header information in the Ethernet frame. The next step is acceleration. Harting says that, unlike ‘store and forward’ approaches, the complete frame does not need to enter the switch’s memory. Once an automation frame is detected, cut through switching technology forwards the frame to the appropriate output port.