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Murky future for fieldbus infrastructure

Posted: 07 Mar 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:fieldbus protocols  Ethernet  networking technology 

According to a study by IMS Research, fieldbus protocols accounted for 75 per cent of new industrial automation component network connections in 2011. However, this number is seen to fall to 69 per cent in 2016.

There are more new network connections using fieldbus protocols compared to Ethernet, but Ethernet connection growth is expected to be considerably higher in 2016.

More industrial automation component vendors are offering Ethernet provision as standard on their devices. A number of vendors released new products in 2012, which put the emphasis squarely on connectivity via Ethernet technology. As these vendors push the adoption of Ethernet protocols it requires machine builders and end users to switch from older fieldbus technologies.

Industrial Ethernet and Fieldbus Technologies

2011-2016 industrial Ethernet and fieldbus growth vs fieldbus market share
Source: IMS Research

Tom Moore, IHS analyst for industrial Ethernet, fieldbus, and wireless research, commented, "While fieldbus solutions offer connection speeds that may be fast enough for certain applications, they do not offer a unified networking approach, such as with Ethernet technologies."

It's not just unification which is an issue. Simplifying the network can reduce company overheads through an integrated system. This is difficult to achieve with fieldbus technologies. Instead end users will usually have separate office IT divisions and a factory IT divisions. Ethernet adoption across a plant or factory provides a better environment for sharing information and a single division with responsibility for the overall network. The benefits of which are likely to be less downtime and lower overall cost."

The future still is strong for fieldbus, with new connections still increasing year-on-year. However, it is undeniable that industrial Ethernet growth will remain higher than that of fieldbus. IHS believes that within 10 to 15 years industrial Ethernet will be the dominant networking technology in industrial environments and almost all components will offer Ethernet connectivity as standard.

Long product lifecycles and conservatism in industry will maintain fieldbus in the near term but eventually it will be relegated to a supporting role. "With the reduction in adoption will likely come an increase in cost also, further fuelling the transition to industrial Ethernet", Moore noted.

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