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Profinet Gathers Momentum as Single Manufacturing Network

May 10, 2012
OEMs, Users and Automation Suppliers Voice Support for Top-to-Bottom Ethernet Solution

All the technical performance needed for the manufacturing floor, but with all the simplicity and ease-of-use expected in an office network. Ethernet, including Profinet at the plant-floor level, can indeed do it all, agreed machine builders, users and system suppliers at the first Profinet Executive Leadership Forum, held Feb. 23-24 in Sunny Isles, Fla.

For OEMs and end users who spoke at the Profinet Executive Leadership Forum, a single Ethernet network for all plant-floor needs isn’t just an elegant solution—it’s saving time and money now, and will make the “big data” applications of tomorrow possible.

“We use if for everything—it’s the only network we have on our lines today.” David Heyman of Kuka Assembly & Test discussed why the company standardized on Profinet for all its plant-floor networking needs.

“We use it for everything—it’s the only network we have on our lines today,” commented David Heyman, controls engineer for Kuka Assembly & Test, a tier one supplier of manufacturing systems for the automotive industry.

“We talked with Ford about what we could do to get rid of all these different networks,” Heyman explained, noting that Profinet, which adds industrial performance to standard Ethernet at the physical layer, was a logical choice. “Profinet is as close to plug-and-play as we’ve seen. I only need one tool to see if everything is working. The fear of ‘What’s not working?’ [on machine startup] simply went away.”

At an increasing number of factories around the world, Profinet has flattened the entire discrete manufacturing network into a single layer, according to Bernie Anger, general manager, control and communications systems for GE Intelligent Platforms, which recently announced its own standardization on Profinet going forward despite the company’s large installed base of proprietary bus technology.

“We adopted Profinet from a purely technical standpoint,” Anger said, noting that when two archrival automation powerhouses such as GE and Siemens agree on something, there must be something to it. “We see a future where all connections are Ethernet-based, including leverage of cloud technology for services delivery.”

“Profinet isn’t just another industrial Ethernet, but a single industrial networking platform,” added Michael Bryant, executive director of PI North America, the regional trade group responsible for supporting Profinet and Profibus development and application.

The simplicity of Profinet is a major selling point for Alex Lynch, vice president of engineering for system integrator Prism Systems. “When you have an RJ-485 connector, you can’t get it wrong,” he said. “Simple is better. There is one connector for everything, and all those interfaces with special gateways just go away.”

The increased bandwidth that Ethernet brings to the plant floor also is a key advantage of top-to-bottom Profinet, Lynch said. “Innovation is what Profinet enables. It’s the means to transfer information—not just data—from one device to another.”

For David Wang, president and CEO of Beet Analytics Technology, a company developing new technologies for predictive maintenance based on the increased availability of information, Ethernet and Profinet mean ease of design, ease of production support and other applications not yet foreseen. “You’ll see many more things than you could before,” Wang said. “With Ethernet, it will be possible.”

“As customers unify the lifecycles of product design and product manufacturing, we talk about moving to an era of ‘big data,’ especially as plants and products are virtualized and digitized,” said Raj Batra, president of industry automation for Siemens Industry. Bringing these traditionally serial processes into a more concurrent lifecycle means large flows of data, and Profinet as the industrial Ethernet backbone from enterprise level to shop floor makes that possible, he said. “Deciding on a network topology that ensures commonality and is capable of handling the big-data era is among the most important decisions a manufacturing executive will make.”

Strategic initiatives at Ford Motor’s power train manufacturing division all relate to standardization, flexibility and acceleration (of new product launches), said Michael Bastian, controls manager. Standardizing on Profinet is helping the automaker in its efforts to distribute controls where possible (to reduce panel footprint), to better manage the blurring lines of responsibility between the company’s controls and IT professionals, and to more easily implement integrated safety methodologies, Bastian said.

Other benefits for Ford include improved troubleshooting (enabled through standard IP addressing at the machine level), simpler cabling systems and interlocks, documented savings in installation time and hardware costs, and improved network stability and reliability.

Visibility for execution-level applications, too, is improving as standard, high-bandwidth connections seep into all corners of the manufacturing process. “By locking down a common communication platform, we’re able to get better access into our MES applications,” Bastian said.

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