Survey: Perceptions and realities of Ethernet use

This comprehensive survey of machine builders, system integrators and end users takes a look at the overall market, current activity, future growth, and emerging user preferences of wireless and wired Ethernet.

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By Jim Taylor, VDC, and Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

During 2004, Venture Development Corp
. undertook a comprehensive survey of industrial machine builders, system integrators, and end users regarding their use of both wireless and wired Ethernet. Readers of Industrial Networking were among those participating in the survey.

We are reporting the findings of the survey in two parts. First, we take a quick look at the overall market, identify where current activity and future growth are centered, and then begin to identify user preferences that emerged from the data. In Part II, to be published in our summer issue, we’ll explore current and emerging protocols, connectivity issues, and a host of selection criteria.

Perceptions and realities of Ethernet use: Part 2
Part 2 of this survey explores current and emerging protocols, connectivity issues, and a host of selection, installation and opertional criteria.
The products covered in the study included industrial-grade “wireline,” (wire-based), interconnect products such as connectors, cable/cord sets and distribution boxes; networking components such as bridges, console servers, device servers, distributed/remote I/O, fiberoptic transceivers, gateways (protocol servers), hubs, modems, multiplexers, routers and switches; and network software for analysis and management function.

For wireless, the products covered included antennae, access point/networking components such as bridges console servers, device servers, distributed I/O, gateways (protocol servers), hubs, modems, repeaters, routers, switches, and transceivers; and software for network management and analysis.

First, we can state the obvious: It’s evident from the results of this survey, as well as industry observation, that the use of networking continues to expand in industrial facilities for both facility infrastructure (HVAC, lighting, security, etc.) and for operations in the facilities. Functionally, communications, monitoring and control are provided over the networks. Most of this expansion is associated with wire-based (including fiberoptic) networks with a smaller, clearly developing market for wireless types.

Much of this growth is related to the use of Ethernet--the basis of this study. Estimated worldwide shipments and forecasts through 2006 indicate a 22% annual growth to $1.6 billion for wire-based products, and a 35% annual growth rate to $183 million for wireless Ethernet infrastructure products. The high growth rates forecasted are linked to the perceived advantages of using Ethernet versus other network technologies, and the advantages of using wireless networks.

Perception Grows Reality
The perceived advantages of Ethernet, according to respondents, are:
  • Lower cost--The cost of connecting devices and infrastructure products to an Ethernet network, even when using industrial-grade connectors and cables, is less than that of other open standard and proprietary buses/networks;
  • Plant-wide uniformity--With Ethernet, the same types of networks can be used in both office and the plant floor, saving on infrastructure, training, support and other costs.
  • Greater determinism--New Ethernet protocols and products have greater determinism than previous generation products, allowing Ethernet to be used in a greater range of applications, including fast real-time implementations.
  • Commercial-grade products--Hardened and ruggedized infrastructure products are not needed in all applications and places on the plant floor. The availability of commercial-grade products allows users flexibility concerning environments and reliability.

The perceived advantages of a Wireless implementation:

  • Easier maintenance--Wireless networks can enable more efficient maintenance and repair, thereby lowering maintenance costs and downtime. 
  • Enables mobile applications such as portable operator interfaces with wireless monitoring and control capabilities. This allows operators, engineers, maintenance personnel, and others to interface with equipment without having to be in fixed locations.
  • Lower-cost components--Extensive and growing use of wireless Ethernet or Wi-Fi in high-volume commercial and consumer markets is leading to inexpensive components compared to those of other wireless networks.
  • Lowers cost of wire-centric networks--Wireless networks negate the cost of the wire previously needed to connect devices and controllers. Wireless solutions allow networks to be established over distances or in applications where the cost of cable might have been prohibitive.
  • More flexibility--Wireless solutions offer greater flexibility for ease of change-outs and expansion. This is especially valuable in applications where these conditions are frequent and expensive.

(Click the Download Now button at the bottom of this article to view two charts demonstrating perceived benefits, drawbacks and costs of wired vs. wireless Ethernet networks.)

Commercial vs. Industrial-Grade
Ethernet infrastructure components installed in industrial facilities can be exposed to a variety of environments, depending on the application and industry involved. In some cases, components are kept in rooms or areas away from harsh environments or housed in ruggedized enclosures. In these cases, commercial-grade products might meet user needs, as there is less chance these would be damaged by harsh environments. In other cases, however, the infrastructure components must be located on the plant floor, outside, or in other harsh environments where commercial-grade products might have unacceptable reliability. As a result, there are Ethernet infrastructure components available for use in these conditions. In addition to physical protection characteristics, industrial-grade Ethernet infrastructure products also must provide a high degree of availability and reliability.

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