Safety, Savings, and Quick Connections in a Webinar

Control Engineering presented a webinar today sponsored by PTO member Woodhead: “Building the Industrial Infrastructure.”  Ed Nabrotsky’s introduction is a fact-based comparison showing the savings of using a fieldbus over using hard wiring.  Pay careful attention to the justification even though he uses DeviceNet instead of PROFIBUS in his example.  I’m sure the PROFIBUS savings would be even greater (said with a smile).  The important message is to use a fieldbus instead of hardwiring.

For some reason I had not taken notice of Woodhead’s clever connectors, Quick-Lock.  They just push on like a pneumatic or hydraulic connector.  Clever.  Maybe I didn’t notice because I don’t actually build and install machines any more.  If unlike me, you are still in the real world, look at those.

Tom Barczak talked about some of the benefits of “Ethernet Everywhere.”  Faster project times was his lead off.  The benefits he presented are sometimes difficult to quantify, but that doesn’t mean they’re zero!  [This was my week to run into former Wonder-colleagues.  Tom was with a Wonderware distributor while I was at Wonderware.  Yesterday at the safety movie I ran into a local, former Wonderware distributor salesman.  He asked (tongue in cheek, I hope) if I ever finished the one-page Wonderware price sheet I was supposed to do while pricing was one of my responsibilities.  Uh, no.  I had a great time at Wonderware… except for the @#$&^%#$ pricing.]

Tom used a phrase to describe companies like Woodhead: protocol-neutral.  And therefore a reliable source of information when a user has decided to use a fieldbus and then needs to pick one.  Most of our members are in the same category.  They are members of PTO and ODVA, at least.  They are indeed protocol-neutral.  They have to be; they’re in business to sell products, not a technology.

Just in case I haven’t beat the subject of safety to death, let me encourage you to listen carefully to Ed’s perspective on safety on the same bus with the control system.

This may be hard to imagine but I’m going to weigh in on some of the questions and answers with my opinions:

Q: Safety, are the standards done and systems available?  The answer was that the standards are in place, but that Ethernet is behind.  My opinion: the standards are in place.  The other technologies may not be ready with safety on Ethernet, but we already have PROFIsafe on PROFINET products and installations.

Q: Ethernet, what challenges remain?  The answers included learning how to architect the system and use switches, security, wireless, and bridging from legacy fieldbuses.  My opinion: I completely agree that there is still a lot of education needed on deployment and architecture.  That’s why we offer a one-week course PROFINET Certified Network Engineer in addition to our one-day training classes.  Security is also a work in progress; you can create a secure system, but it’s more work now than it should be.  Wireless is not monolithic as I’ve ranted before.  Ed hinted at that in his answer.  But since PROFINET is just an Ethernet frame on the wire, it works fine wirelessly as well.  We have lots of installations already.  Connecting to individual devices wirelessly – that’s another story.  Definitely a work in progress.  “Bridging to legacy systems” is where PROFINET shines using proxies that map legacy fieldbuses to PROFINET making them transparent form the PROFINET perspective.  And of course, by legacy fieldbuses I don’t mean just PROFIBUS, but also Interbus, DeviceNet, Modbus, and more.

Q: When will Ethernet pass traditional fieldbuses?  Great question.  Ed said 3-4 years.  My opinion: I’d guess a similar timeframe for annual Ethernet nodes to exceed annual traditional fieldbus nodes.  What do you think?

Q: What’s the next thing I should do to start getting the benefits?  The answers were look for a likely project (MES or machine change-over or large commissioning time), learn the products, and find an expert.  My opinion: good answers.  I would add that you should start learning the technologies first.  Check out the Resources section of, subscribe to the newsletter, and attend a class.

Bottom line: this webinar is well worth an hour of your time.