Distributing Control with
Ethernet and TCP/IP
It can’t be simple, can it? Industrial networking’s cast of characters is mind boggling. And it’s hard to figure out how they all fit together. Well, consider some of the new industrial Ethernet protocols to see how they facilitate distributed control with intelligent devices. Can’t hurt.
John Rinaldi, Real Time Automation
Perry S. Marshall, Perry S. Marshall & Associates
Industrial Ethernet is a hot topic these days. And although it’s not ideal for sensors, its TCP/IP (Transport Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) peer-to-peer capabilities make it an excellent network for linking controllers and data acquisition systems. Outside the office environment, protocols are necessary for defining the meaning of automation and process data. Without a vendor like Microsoft to dictate these protocols, many within the industry are pushing standards.
This article discusses some of the more popular standards (e.g., EtherNet/IP, Foundation Fieldbus, and Profinet), their relative strengths and weaknesses, and the issues that device manufacturers must consider to support these protocols.
A Fit for Distributed Control
Just as millions of PCs around the world can work independently and then send and receive data over the Internet, distributed control means intelligent control devices work independently but still operate together within a larger system. In process control, engineers have used distributed control systems for decades, with loop controllers operating locally and sending batch information to a mainframe computer. In discrete manufacturing, large plants use hundreds of PLCs linked to a single backbone. Phillip Morris uses serial-to-Ethernet converters to verify that the program in each PLC has not changed. Millions of PLCs use serial networks based on RS-485 to pass data back and forth (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Distributed control is the sharing of control functions between multiple processors and smart devices, and connecting them with a network. Advanced Ethernet protocols, such as EtherNet/IP, Foundation Fieldbus HSE, and Profinet offer messaging services designed for automation and process control.
But in both of these examples, the data rate is only a few thousand bits per second. Ethernet provides transmission rates of 10, 100, and 1000 Mbps. The faster the data rate, the more transparent the network.
Ethernet is the most common physical layer in distributed control systems, but the transport mechanism itself is secondary. The real deal is the collection of protocols collectively referred to as TCP/IP. This set of protocols accommodates different kinds of data for different kinds of applications. For example, the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) supports mail, the Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) supports point-to-point applications, and the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) supports the Web. Of all the protocols in the TCP/IP suite, TCP and IP are most important to industrial automation.
Switches Segment the Network
Ethernet hubs indiscriminately distribute packets in all directions, but switches pass packets only to their intended destinations. This means that traffic between devices that are close together does not clog up other parts of the network. So a data acquisition system that uses Ethernet I/O can easily coexist with a device passing high-speed motion commands on a different segment.
Intelligent switches make it possible for you to create deterministic segments on your network. Even though Ethernet is by definition not deterministic, thoughtful planning of your network can create zones of determinism. Using intelligent switches to isolate devices on a network segment can provide enough determinism for all but the most demanding applications.
TCP/IP Messaging Services
There are two major general messaging services in TCP/IP: TCP and the User Datagram Protocol (UDP). Using TCP is like sending a certified letter, which provides proof of receipt. The network assumes that the message has been properly received only after the acknowledgement comes back. This virtually guarantees data integrity, but it requires no fewer than seven handshakes to open a connection, send a packet, verify its safe arrival, and close the connection. Of course, if there’s an error, the process has to start over again.
TCP is inherently peer to peer; each node is assumed to be equal to others. It is full duplex, meaning that it can handle simultaneous data streams in both directions.
UDP is like ordinary first-class mail. The message can be sent in a single packet, but there is no acknowledgment of receipt. To continue the mail analogy, a UDP envelope is also less bulky–the UDP protocol has less overhead.
UDP lends itself to master/slave relationships, which are common in I/O networks (e.g., DeviceNet and Profibus). UDP is generally used for real-time applications, such as online streaming and gaming, where missing packets need not be re-sent and would probably be too old if they were. It’s also used where upper-layer protocols handle flow control and data stream checking and correcting.
Automation’s Special Needs
Automation systems perform specific tasks, and data must be represented in a standardized format. Digital and analog values, commands, and recipes can all be represented in a variety of ways, and to avoid a Tower of Babel, definite protocols must be used.
It’s not enough to send packets of data back and forth, because parsing the packets is too tedious. A more elegant way is to use object-oriented data.
There are several major contenders that use objects: Profinet, Foundation Fieldbus High Speed Ethernet (HSE), and EtherNet/IP. Each approaches the problem from a different vantage point. Profinet is not as far along in the commercialization process as Foundation Fieldbus HSE or Ethernet/IP, and some aspects of the specification are still under development. Except for specific process control applications where Foundation Fieldbus is the bus du jour, Ethernet/IP is the most commercially viable solution on the market. It has a small but growing list of supporting vendors.
Figure 2. Profinet is an object-oriented architecture designed to allow the distribution of programs, device profiles, and data across a large networked system, similar to the way Microsoft Office applications, programs, and objects can be shared across an office LAN.
This protocol is the Profibus Trade Organization’s answer to the need for interoperability between automation devices and subsystems linked together via Ethernet (see Figure 2). To understand what Profinet is, you must understand what it is not. Profinet is not the Profibus protocol on Ethernet in the same way that Modbus/TCP is the old familiar Modbus on Ethernet. And Profinet is not really a fieldbus as the term is normally understood.
An analogy to the office environment may help you understand what Profinet is intended to do. You work in an office with a PC at your desk, networked with a dozen other PCs and a file server. Your office LAN (Ethernet 100Base–T) is linked to a T1 Internet line. You open Microsoft Word and create a complex document. You write some text and create some tables. Your coworker Jeff has a PowerPoint presentation on his PC; you open it via the network and copy and paste two different graphs into your Word document, which are transferred intact as objects. Your other coworker Leslie has an Excel spreadsheet, which you also open remotely and embed in your document–it’s as simple as cut and paste. In this case, the Excel data are not static, they’re live: Leslie updates the spreadsheet every Tuesday, and every time you open your document, it’s going to retrieve the latest data from the document on her PC. You get on the Internet and copy and paste text and graphics from a Web site, and your document also contains hyperlinks to other Web sites.
Behind this transparency among applications is a complex object model created by Microsoft. Savvy PC users are quite accustomed to this level of sophistication and its benefits. This expectation naturally extends to the integration of business applications throughout an entire company and to devices in an automation system. Profinet in fact uses Microsoft COM (Communication Object Model) and DCOM (Distributed Communication Object Model) to extend this transparency to all devices on a TCP/IP network, further defining object models for many kinds of device and programming parameters.
And rather than being specific to only one manufacturer’s hardware or software (as is often the case with Microsoft), Profinet purports to be an industry standard available to all Profibus members. Profinet is an open communications, multivendor engineering model. This means that a preconfigured, preprogrammed, and pretested machine, such as a transport conveyor, can be set up using vendor-specific electrical devices and applications as it has been in the past.
Foundation Fieldbus HSE
This protocol uses the Foundation Fieldbus H1 process control protocol on TCP/IP. Foundation Fieldbus H1 is a sophisticated, object–oriented protocol that operates at 31.25 Kbps on standard 4–20 mA wiring. It uses multiple messaging formats and allows a controller to recognize a rich set of configuration and parameter information (a device description) from devices plugged into the bus. Foundation Fieldbus even allows a device to transmit parameters relating to the estimated reliability of a particular piece of data. The protocol uses a scheduler to guarantee the delivery of messages, so issues of determinism and repeatability are solidly addressed. Each segment of the network contains one scheduler.
Foundation Fieldbus HSE is the same H1 protocol, but instead of 31.25 Kbps, it runs on TCP/IP at 100 Mbps. HSE provides the same services and transparency of network objects but operates at a higher level.
Foundation Fieldbus is tailored for the process-control industry and will likely be the dominant Ethernet I/O standard in that arena. Installations in this segment of the world typically have the following characteristics:
- Large campuses (e.g., chemical refineries), with large numbers of nodes
- Large packets data that don’t have to move quickly
- Large quantities of analog data
- Explosionproof requirement (Class I, Div. II)
Foundation Fieldbus H1 links local islands of transducers and actuators; HSE links controllers and transmits a high level of information over large distances.
Ethernet/IP is based on a standard used in DeviceNet and ControlNet called the Control and Information Protocol (CIP). This standard organizes networked devices as a collection of objects and defines access, object behavior, and extensions, which allows widely disparate devices to be accessed using a common mechanism.
CIP is carefully mapped to both TCP/IP and UDP. It incorporates the following message hierarchies and scheduling mechanisms:
- Exchange of basic I/O, PLC style. All control networks have this capability: exchanging data with racks of I/O, for example, or collecting readings from a temperature controller or encoder. This is handled in a simple client/server relationship using UDP.
- Upload/download of parameters and set points; transfer of programs and recipes. In DeviceNet, these are called explicit messages and are sent only sporadically. An Ethernet/IP temperature controller maps its data in a similar way. Ethernet/IP uses TCP/IP for this task.
- Polled, cyclic, and event-driven data.
- One-to-one, one-to-many, and broadcast. TCP/IP is inherently one-to-one (and peer-to-peer), but this poses a significant disadvantage when many devices must be updated in a short period of time because each connection eats up valuable milliseconds. UDP allows messages to be sent to many nodes simultaneously, and this saves time.
More than 300 vendors support CIP in their products. Using the technology in Ethernet/IP means that it is based on a widely understood, broadly implemented, and certifiable standard that does not require a new-technology shakedown period. Four independent groups have joined forces to develop and promote Ethernet/IP as a public-domain Ethernet application layer for industrial automation. These groups include the Open DeviceNet Vendor Association, the Industrial Automation Open Networking Association, ControlNet International, and the Industrial Ethernet Association. Ethernet/IP is considerably more complex than standard serial protocols, adding expense for developers, but the complexity brings advantages.
Taking Advantage of TCP/IP
Ethernet/IP uses all the transport and control protocols used in traditional Ethernet, including TCP, IP, and the media access and
Books and Papers
Industrial Ethernet in 90 Days or Less, by John Rinaldi, Real Time Automation.
Ethernet: The Definitive Guide, by Charles E. Spurgeon, O’Reilly & Associates, March 2000.
10 Things to Consider Before Installing Industrial Ethernet, by George Thomas, Contemporary Controls.
signaling technologies found in off-the-shelf Ethernet interface cards. Building on these standard PC technologies means that Ethernet/IP works transparently with all standard off-the-shelf Ethernet devices found in today’s marketplace. It also means that Ethernet/IP can be easily supported on standard PCs and all of their derivatives. Even more important, basing Ethernet/IP on a standard technology platform ensures that Ethernet/IP will move forward as base technologies evolve in the future.
The groups supporting Ethernet/IP plan to ensure a comprehensive, consistent standard by careful, multivendor attention to the specification and through certified test labs. Certification processes modeled after the programs for DeviceNet and ControlNet will ensure the consistency and quality of field devices.
Is there interoperability among application layer protocols? Basically, no. Foundation Fieldbus HSE devices will not talk to Modbus/TCP devices, nor will EtherNet/IP devices talk to IDA devices. However, the situation is not quite as bad as it may appear.
First, all these protocols use TCP/IP and Ethernet. So ISO layers 1–4 are already agreed upon. That’s a huge step forward. Second, they all can coexist on the same wire at the same time. Third, there’s nothing to prevent vendors from making devices that support more than one protocol. Some vendors do, and some devices can automatically recognize which protocols are being used on the network. Furthermore, a device can use any number of protocols simultaneously. Finally, objects that define the relationships between protocols will be adopted by standards organizations. The issue of low-level device compatibility will slowly fade as the technology matures, and standards will compete at higher levels–system–level integration of objects and profiles such as those found in Profinet, IDA, and OPC.
But in the meantime, always be certain what protocols are supported by the I/O and smart devices you purchase.
Portions of this article were taken from Industrial Ethernet: A Pocket Guide, by Perry S. Marshall ©2002 ISA Press.
John Rinaldi is President, Real Time Automation, 2825 N. Mayfair Rd., Ste. 11, Wauwatosa, WI 53222; 414-453-5100, fax 414-453-5125.
"Originally appeared in Sensors Magazine"