The future of industrial communications: Fieldbus or Ethernet?

Having recently joint Fastwel as a Head of European Branch, I’ve attended the first event in a new role. It was a workshop, organized by Telerex in Breda, the Netherlands, where over 40 industrial automation experts arrived to discuss the state of art in industrial communications. The experts talked about pros and cons of Fieldbuses and Ethernet communications for industrial automation. Many technical details of “Fieldbus VS Ethernet” battle have been covered; however, here I would like to focus on the business aspects of the problem.

As a kind of disclaimer, I have to mention, that althoughFastwel manufactures configurable boards, applicable for industrial automation, the company’s focus is rugged single board computers as well as panel and box pcs for aerospace, marine, security, transportation. However, being an expert in mission critical applications, Fastwel is considering the development of products, designed specifically for the needs of industrial automation. As reliable communications are vital for industrial automation, I would like to share few thoughts on the direction of their development.

The diversity of industrial Ethernet and Fieldbus communication system standards creates a clutter, leading to a challenging choice. On the one hand, there are Ethernet networks, which show higher performance in terms of speed, bandwidth, and compliance to the standards (TCP/IP). Certainly, Ethernet has an advantage in process automation. Moreover, with the use of a high-quality hardware, Ethernet systems can perform as hard real-time systems. However, Fieldbuses are still commonly used in factory automation, as they show higher reliability, according to certain professionals. Another argument used in advantage of Fieldbus is the investments that already have been made to build Fieldbus networks, and the high costs of their replacement.

Then the time to make strategic decisions comes for industrial manufacturers: whether it is worth to invest in the replacement of Fieldbuses by Ethernet-based systems? Given a limitation in R&D resources, manufacturers prefer to invest in their main product development, not in the “secondary” activities. However, as we are entering the “Internet of Things” reality – it seems that Ethernet – based systems tend to be more viable in the long term.

What would you bet on, and what is the future of industrial communications?

 

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