EtherNet/IP Moving Forward!

Fris_tape_crowbarWhat do Frisbees, duct tape, and crow bars have in common? Give up? None of them have changed an iota since the day they were created. And fifty years from now, they’ll likely be the same as they are today.

You can’t say that about EtherNet/IP and its core technology CIP (Common Industrial Protocol). There is a lot going on in the EtherNet/IP world. EtherNet/IP is moving quickly to improve the technology, to adapt itself to the coming higher performance networks, and to integrate with cloud and IoT technologies.

EtherNet/IP is a few years shy of twenty years old. In that long history, hundreds of devices have been certified, and thousands of networks with hundreds of thousands of nodes are successfully operating all over the world. EtherNet/IP is the most important I/O protocol in the North American Automation market.

If you’re an integrator, distributor, control engineer, or other automation professional, EtherNet/IP and CIP are like old shoes to you. Been there – done that. You understand how to configure EtherNet/IP devices. You know how to add EtherNet/IP devices to ControlLogix PLCs. You understand the difference between scanners and adapters. You know all about EDS files, Identify objects, and how the cyclic messaging works. You’re an expert.

UNTIL NOW.
Now there is so much activity going on that it would be fair to say that EtherNet/IP will change more in the next five years than it has since its inception. There are 20 SIGs (Special Interest Groups), some with up to 50 members, working on extending and enhancing the technology. The longest running group is on meeting #754. Even over almost 20 years, that’s still an awful lot of meetings.

At the recent ODVA (Open Device Vendor Association) Annual Meeting, a number of new features were discussed, some already available and some in development:

Device Level Ring (DLR): If you aren’t using a device level ring right now, you will probably be using one in the future. This became an obvious technology direction when integrated 2-port switches were added to automation products. DLR offers very fast detection of network faults and reconfiguration of the network to keep continuous processes operating. Ring networks can sometimes recover from a fault condition in as little as 3ms.

LED Services: In applications where you have a number of EtherNet/IP devices – especially where the IP addresses are assigned using DHCP – it’s often hard to know which device is which. EtherNet/IP is adding new services that allow a Scanner to flash the LEDs of an Adapter device. By the way, this is something we had in DeviceNet that was missed when EtherNet/IP was adopted.

CIP Safety: Safety is a very complicated area, requiring specialized expertise. The CIP Safety SIG is working on a number of specification issues: fixing incorrect specification sections, eliminating vague parts, and resolving conflicting sections. The rules for devices that can qualify for CIP Safety are being relaxed. Currently these rules are very restrictive – so restrictive that complex devices like controllers are prohibited. Additionally, specification is being modified to meet SIL 3 requirements. SIL 3 devices have a lower probability of failure than SIL 2 devices.

Cabling and Connectors: The EtherNet/IP physical layer SIGs are addressing the cabling issues associated with 1 GB Ethernet. The specification will detail the specifics of the cables and connectors that should be used with the newer and faster Ethernet.

New Earthing and Bonding Document: The ODVA has released a very comprehensive Earthing and Bonding document with practical recommendations for deployment of Ethernet systems in the factory.

PoE and PoDL: I’ll admit that until recently I had never heard of PoDL, which is pronounced as “poodle.” It means Power over Data Lines. Work is moving forward on making distributed EtherNet/IP devices without power cabling possible.

Multiple EtherNet/IP Ports: Devices are now being developed with multiple Ethernet ports and multiple EtherNet/IP identities. That presents problems for Scanners, which need to address one of several EtherNet/IP identities in a device. The System SIG is working to determine how to address these kinds of devices.

Expanded Device Configuration Block: There has been frustration with the 400 byte limit for device configuration. That is being addressed but there is no date when that limit will be expanded.

Ethernet technology is improving – speeds are increasing, new capabilities are being added (e.g., embedded switch technology), and EtherNet/IP is responding with mechanisms to address these enhancements. For example, 100 Gig presents many new problems regarding noise, cable construction, connector sealing, and grounding. EtherNet/IP is not sitting still while Ethernet technology continues to move forward.

From what I’ve seen, EtherNet/IP isn’t going the way of duct tape, the Frisbee, the crow bar or even Modbus. It’s a whole new world for those of us doing EtherNet/IP, and personally, I’m looking forward to it.

EtherNet/IP can be complex. You have a resource at RTA to answer your questions about it or how to move any of your data around your factory and enterprise.