By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief
It's our job to try to get to know our Industrial Networking audience well enough to construct kind of a basic profile of your preferences and practices when you design and/or use networks.
One tool we employ to do that is a regular program of usage studies in which many of you participate.
The lead-in to this issue's product research on wireless components ("Healthy Wireless Networking Outlook") presents a few snapshots of data from one of this year's studies. Let's give you a bit more from that study.
Of those 61% of the survey respondents who currently have wireless or have plans to deploy wireless in the next 12 months, the most common applications for it were monitoring (64%), control (30%) and alerts/alarms (6%). Those results make some sense as we also find that a near majority (43%) only needed their wireless to handle a cycle time of 1 s or more, while 22% indicated 100-499 ms. That's not a significant change from the 2009 findings.
Our study respondents need their wireless to talk with Ethernet/Ethernet variants (61%), Modbus (13%), Profibus (9%) and Foundation fieldbus (6%).
Finally, 18% of respondents indicated their biggest concern/need for wireless connectivity is security. Although that's a comparatively small percentage, those results are basically unchanged from two years ago. I'd have thought there would be an upswing in those respondents who had become more convinced of the reliability of wireless. Maybe next year.
During 2011, we studied your industrial Ethernet inclinations as well. Here are a few key findings from that study.
The most common connectivity applications noted for using industrial Ethernet—and we asked participants to note as many as applied—were HMI to controller (78%), controller to controller (66%), overall machine control (58%), and electronic drives and maintenance/diagnostics, both of which attracted 43% of the study participants.
The most common nominal data rate and medium required by fully half of these industrial Ethernet specifiers was 100 Mbps over Cat. 6 copper. That was followed by 20% running 10 Mbps over Cat. 5 copper, and 15% at 100 Mbps over fiberoptic cable.
We learned from 85% of the responders that PLCs top the list of industrial Ethernet-enabled equipment planned for installation in the next 18 months or so. HMI (79%) and remote I/O (55%) round out the top three for planned purchases of Ethernet-enabled equipment.
When we asked about the benefits derived from using industrial Ethernet, both interoperability and open standards were factors noted by two-thirds of the respondents, while about half noted Ethernet's low cost and uniformity, and more than 40% liked it's web-based data-access capabilities.
At the other end of the spectrum, we asked about the factors that most limited their use of industrial Ethernet. Nearly half noted the hindrances caused by legacy equipment, and 31% mentioned security concerns.
When we asked how much the study participants spent annually on industrial Ethernet components and systems, 22% indicated $50,000-$99,999, 21% spent $10,000-$24,999, 20% spent $250,000 and above (that's up from 11% in 2010), and 18% indicated $25,000-$29,999.
We're also trying to tap into an understanding of the insistent—some would say annoying—industry buzz that says IT groups are gaining more responsibility for Ethernet on the factory floor and in the plant.
Not so much, said this year's study group. At 79% of respondents' plants, control engineers maintain the primary responsibility for industrial Ethernet projects. At a mere 3% of facilities it is the IT department's responsibility, and at 18% of facilities, the responsibility is said to be shared by control engineers and IT.
We know that results can shift from year to year simply from demographic variety in the sample, so watching these results trend out over a few more years will be important for us.
So, what do you think? Does this sound like you? If, for the most part, you think it does, we'll pat ourselves on the back. If not, for goodness sake, tell us. We want our results to mirror the high accuracy and reliability that you expect from the systems you design and use.