2019, like several years before it, was a year where industry focussed on adopting several types of connected technologies to improve efficiency and real-time insight. 2020 will bring a rise in PC-based control systems as a natural extension to this, driving efficiency at the data level, explains Stephen Hayes, managing director of Beckhoff Automation UK.
It’s well understood by manufacturers today that technology is changing and digitising, and there are numerous benefits to making the transition to modern automation and digital technologies. But, in making the transition, many businesses have accumulated patchwork networks of fragmented systems or highly complex system architectures. These networks are not necessarily set up for effectiveness, and limit the value provided to manufacturers.
After years of investment, adoption and promised returns, 2020 will see manufacturers go back to basics in developing their systems and networks. This will involve assessing networks at the field level and adopting PC-based control systems that use fieldbus technologies like EtherCAT, which simultaneously streamlines system architectures and speeds-up communication between devices.
The reality is that traditional fieldbus technology — which bounces data signals to and from each node in a network — is too slow, inefficient and resource-intensive for modern connected systems. EtherCAT transmits data far more efficiently, with nodes that read and respond in real-time as data continues to move downstream in the network. Real-time insight is the holy grail of industrial connectivity, and EtherCAT architecture facilitates that.
Manufacturers can streamline their network structures, as EtherCAT can be deployed from on PC-based control system instead of a complex web of hundreds of fieldbus terminals. The technology can process 1,000 input/output (I/O) points in 30 microseconds and communicate with 100 servo axes in 100 microseconds, with each transmitted frame of data being capable of exchanging the equivalent of almost 12,000 digital inputs and outputs.
In effect, it addresses the issues of bloating infrastructure and inefficient transmission that manufacturers encounter in their connected, digital journeys.
Objectively, EtherCAT and PC-based control seem to be the clear winners for industrial connectivity. If digitalisation is all about getting real-time insight into complex industrial processes that were previously difficult to monitor, EtherCAT ensures that real-time data is as instantaneous as possible and PC control suites keep networks streamlined.
When we consider the promises that have been made of what’s achievable with industrial networked systems and the Industrial Internet of Things, the technology clearly has a lot to live up to. The rise of PC-based control in 2020 will finally see industrial infrastructure catch up with expectations.