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Simplified Ethernet comms overcomes skills shortage

Skilled control engineers are increasingly rare in modern industry, so the technology of communications networks needs to adapt to become easier to use and maintain. Steve Jones of the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) reviews the situation.

Maths and physics have not been popular in school and university for many years and too few people have embarked on careers based on these subjects - most notably as control engineers. Control technologies must become simpler so that systems can be designed, installed, maintained and adapted by engineers whose skills are focused elsewhere.

As industrial control systems developed, control engineers have moved from centralised controllers to distributed control systems. Networks of controllers can reduce the risk of system-wide shut down caused by a single device failure. Since networked control systems became established many users have migrated to 'open' networks that allow the connection of disparate third party devices.  

More recently users have seen the appeal of standard Ethernet (TCP/IP) as a way of communicating shop floor data to the information system. However, unlike the popular automation networks such as Profibus and CC-Link, standard Ethernet will not deliver the performance needed for modern complex manufacturing, particular the applications that require deterministic response.  

The answer to this has been a rash of Industrial Ethernet protocols, and whilst most of them address the performance issues, they frequently add unwanted complexity for the user. They can adversely affect down time, maintenance and making changes to the network configuration.  

Many companies now employ multi-skilled engineers rather than specialists, bringing in experts as needed. However companies cannot afford to shut down production while awaiting the specialist.  

In developing its Industrial Ethernet version of CC-Link, CLPA used the knowledge it had gained over the past ten years. The outcome was CC-Link IE offering deterministic Gigabit throughput combined with high availability and ease of use.  

CC-Link IE simplifies the implementation and adaption of the Industrial Ethernet networks by enabling universal tools and techniques of Ethernet to be used. Additional stations can be connected freely either to the empty port of a hub, or a station and no specific CC-Link IE protocol knowledge is required. The CC-Link IE network can be configured in a range of topologies, and proprietary TCP/IP devices such as RFID readers, bar code scanners are connected via an Ethernet adaptor.  

Importantly, CC-Link IE incorporates many unique features to ensure minimum of disruption caused by network downtime. For example any CC-Link node can be removed and the system will automatically adapt itself to keep running. Later a replacement can be fitted and the system will adapt without any disruption to the network. Other features making CC-Link the non-stop network include: high EMI immunity; station bypass for easy maintenance, and a standby master function to automatically maintain the network if the master fails. Simple really.
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