Industrial Ethernet — already established at the factory level of industrial automation hierarchies — is now becoming a viable networking protocol at the I/O or field level, so says the new “Industrial Ethernet-based Devices Worldwide Outlook” study from ARC Advisory Group, Dedham, Mass.

Initial uses focused on Ethernet's vertical integration features for end users looking to adopt a single common network, but the rise in dedicated motion control networks indicates a broader variety of potential benefits.

Real-time motion control applications, for example, focus on Ethernet's ability to control multiple axes and feedback devices. Ethernet shipments remain small compared to legacy alternatives, but the variety of benefits offered by the networking protocol continues to expand. Fueled by this growth, analysts believe that the worldwide market for industrial Ethernet-based devices will increase.

Embedded switching is a key technology development in the industrial Ethernet marketplace, as suppliers look to overcome the network's hub-and-spoke topology restriction. Embedded switches are often unmanaged or lightly managed, with the primary intent to simplify network design and enable more flexible topologies. The impact of embedded Ethernet switching varies by application type: It is widely accepted in motion control but is still being evaluated in other segments, such as logic control.

Because the features and benefits of industrial Ethernet are still evolving, analysts underscore that not all solutions are alike. For example, end users may not even be aware that new machines include an Ethernet-based servo network, while other users have developed detailed industrial Ethernet requirements.

The emphasis on a common versus open protocol is also evident, due to the fact that many industrial Ethernet installations at the device level remain single-vendor solutions. For more information, visit arcweb.com/res/ethernet.