News from Nuremberg

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There were plenty of press releases pronounced in press conferences at the SPS Drives Show, but the real news was what was waiting to be discovered in conversation in the aisles and booths.  We’ll see how long I stay awake here on the flight home to set down what I learned.

PROFINET chips.  Siemens says they have a sufficient supply of ERTEC chips to meet the growing demand.  Phoenix Contact announced that they are developing a PROFINET chip specifically targeted at the “low-end” PROFINET device.  Expected late in 2007 or early in 2008 (rumor has it), it does not replace the functionality of the ERTEC available from Siemens and NEC.  I did not get a chance to visit with Hilscher to find out if there is anything new with their NETx chip.

Don’t let anyone tell you that using a chip is not an advantage.  Although not required for most PROFINET applications (motion control being the exception), it speeds and simplifies development by device manufacturers.  Read about “The Chip Advantage” in our little PROFINET booklet available here.

PROFINET products were everywhere – too many to list.  Watch PROFInews North American Edition for New Product Announcements.

IO-Link.  There were a lot more IO-Link products shown (pre-release versions of products as the spec is expected to be finalized in January).  IO-Link is the fieldbus-independent, communication-over-the-signal-wire technology for discrete (and simple analog) sensors.  Compare it to AS-interface and CompoNet. (CompoNet is from ODVA.)  Unlike AS-i, IO-Link is not a bus (think HART for discrete) but handles intelligent sensors better.  Unlike CompoNet, IO-Link uses standard, existing cabling and connectors allowing IO-Link-enabled and conventional sensors to easily coexist.  As an aside, you may have noticed in my pictures the other day that the AS-i booth was full of products and people.

Wireless.  There was a wireless pavilion in Hall 8.  (Did I mention that SPS Drives fills 10 halls?  One hall was devoted to communications technologies like PROFIBUS and PROFINET.)  Unlike ISA, wireless was no big deal here.  The pavilion mainly featured wireless PROFIBUS technology and 802.11 wireless Ethernet technology.  Both are important to PROFIBUS and PROFINET users, of course, but there were no wireless instruments that I saw.  Siemens and Phoenix Contact were the big players in the pavilion.  I was glad to see ProSoft was there as well.

PI’s Tool Calling Interface (TCI).  I spent some time in the TCI area of the PI booth.  TCI is driven by the automotive industry to ease integration between PROFINET (and PROFIBUS) Engineering tools and proprietary configuration software such as that for drive systems.  It’s useful though for any separate software.  Using XML, it transfers real-time values to the proprietary configuration tool.  This is another example of PI’s growth beyond just a fieldbus.  While other fieldbuses make the same claim, PROFINET backs it up with innovative software features like this one and the recent release of phase one of the MES connectivity specification.

Ethernet switches.  There were a lot of new industrial Ethernet switches shown.  Any Ethernet switch can be used with PROFINET, so there was a lot of applicability to our users.  Phoenix Contact introduced a switch that is visible to the PROFINET engineering tools allowing troubleshooting and interaction with other PROFINET devices.  My memory says (can’t get to my notes – the seatbelt sign is on) they also had some wireless access points with PROFINET capability.

PROFINET in the process industry.  The specification is now complete for linking PROFIBUS PA directly to PROFINET.  Work nears completion for the HART-to-PROFINET proxy, being developed with the participation of the HART Communication Foundation.  Work has started on the Foundation Fieldbus proxy specification.  Emerson is participating in the Working Group for this proxy.  This effort in establishing mapped communication through proxies is only part of the PROFINET in process story – a DCS Working Group is overseeing this and other efforts.  I guess you can compare PROFINET to Fieldbus Foundation’s HSE, except PROFINET facilitates communication between the two major process fieldbuses and HART, too.  Oh, and also except that PROFINET provides direct communication to PROFINET IO devices for discrete IO… and through proxies to over 3,000 PROFIBUS DP devices, countless Modbus devices, and DeviceNet devices, too.  OK, maybe you can’t compare HSE to PROFINET.

From the press conferences…

PI announced the status of PROFINET in process, TCI, Chinese standards activity, and more.  I’ve already covered information about the first two.  I’ll compare the status of Chinese standards activity to that of ODVA a little later.

ODVA announced CIP safety being adopted by SERCOS, Chinese standards activity, new spec releases for DeviceNet and Ethernet/IP, and inclusion of FDT in the specs.  I overheard one skeptical editor puzzle over the CIP safety and SERCOS story.  He concluded that when the big player gets very dominant (PROFIBUS and PROFINET), the little guys start alliances.  DeviceNet and Ethernet/IP do FDT (yawn) – PROFIBUS has for 5 years.  [To avoid any hint of favoritism, remember that PI also cooperates with FF, HART, and OPC on EDDL.]

Chinese standards.  Chinese standards are not easy to understand.  A colleague is having an overview translated from Chinese, so I’ll revisit this topic in a later post.

Irrelevant travel information ahead – you can skip this next paragraph unless you’re a glutton for airplane data.  The good thing about traveling frequently is the ability to get an upgrade; the bad thing about traveling frequently is, well… traveling frequently.  The American Airlines flight from Frankfurt to Chicago (where I’m now midway through a three-hour layover) was a brand new configuration of their 767 business class.  Lots of buttons to push to make the seat move electrically into strange and wonderful positions.  My only problem was that the full-flat recline position crammed my size 12 feet into a size 8 space under the seat in front of me.  The entertainment unit was a laptop computer filled with music, movies, games, and more.  It fit into a well in the seat back in front of me with the not-exactly-a-keyboard concealed behind a fold down table and the screen above it.  The whole thing could be removed and used anywhere, too.  After takeoff the flight attendants provided cords to plug in into a power source.  It did not look like Windows; perhaps it was a Linux machine.

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