Extending Ethernet Everywhere

Manufacturing's embrace of the compelling advantages of Ethernet is rapidly extending the corporate network solution onto the factory floor. Watch it get better.

Production's spectacular acceptance of Ethernet is all about enhancing the connectivity of information throughout a manufacturing organization. But why borrow an office tool for harsh factory environments -- especially a tool designed for handholding by the IT department? Answer: Think of it as an effort to smoothly synchronize manufacturing rhythm and efficiencies in the value chain. The long-term benefits outweigh any initial problems (which are rapidly being eliminated). Manufacturing's intent is to extend the benefits of industry-standard IP/Ethernet from the back office to the factory floor. Users want to say goodbye to proprietary, multiple-network environments on factory floors, says Mark Fondl, president, of start up Network Vision Inc., Newburyport, Mass. "Ethernet standardization would eliminate the growing chaos as enterprises intensify global, multi-plant operations." Fondl's business mission is to make Ethernet easier to use and more effective for factory floor applications. His network visualization software, IntraVUE, helps IT departments by providing the plant floor with an easy ability to handle all of the basic support functions of Ethernet. Once installed on a computer connected to the network, IntraVUE is designed to monitor the network 24/7. "The software's ease of use attracted KUKA Welding System GmbH," says Wolfgang Ebert, product manager, Control Technology, Augsburg, Germany. The company will incorporate IntraVUE in robotic systems it will supply to Ford Motor Co., Opel and DaimlerChrysler. "We were searching for a solution that would be intuitive enough for machine operators." Last month Cisco Systems Inc. put its weight behind factory floor Ethernet. At Chicago's National Manufacturing Week, the networking leader introduced its Catalyst 2955 switches, ruggedized 12-port LAN designs for the factory floor. The introduction coincided with a General Motors Corp. endorsement of factory Ethernet. "GM has completed Ethernet pilots, and we have determined that the technology is now proven and ready to be deployed on the factory floor," says Detroit-based Cliff Triplett, global process information officer, manufacturing and quality. A commitment to Cisco and Ethernet was made by Emerson Process Management's Power and Water Solutions Div. "Cisco's switch addresses our stringent reliability and manageability requirements," adds Carl Staab, the division's manager of communication technology. "Cisco's intelligent switching services deliver traffic prioritization, rate limiting and security to insure the high uptime, low latency and deterministic performance our customers require." Cisco and Network Vision are participating in a notably robust sector of the automation market, observes the ARC Advisory Group, Dedham, Mass. Its recent study says the worldwide market for industrial Ethernet devices is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 84.1% over the next five years.

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