Enabling Technologies on Two Wires and Mobile Fully Enabling the Digital Process Plant

The digital future is all about communication. Big data applications turn huge amounts of raw data into usable information for detailed analysis and informed decision making. IoT-enabled devices seamlessly integrate into comprehensive communication infrastructures. End-to-end Ethernet provides the enabling technology for direct communication free from platform limitations and hierarchical structures. Cloud-based solutions allow the access to any information anytime and anywhere. Industrie 4.0 is finally becoming reality.

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The digital future is all about communication: Industrie 4.0 is finally becoming reality.
The digital future is all about communication: Industrie 4.0 is finally becoming reality.
(Source: Pepperl+Fuchs)

Since its introduction in 1973, Ethernet has developed into the absolute standard not only in the field of information technology. Industrial Ethernet communication is also state of the art in the manufacturing industries. In the process industries, however, the infrastructure of automation systems meets a completely different environment. Typical process plants are often characterized by huge dimensions, harsh environments and explosive atmospheres. Under such demanding operating conditions, simple 2-wire-cabling for both data and power has become the established standard for reliable process automation.

With the introduction of Ethernet-APL, the Ethernet advanced physical layer for enhanced communication in the field of process plants is being established and a long-time vision of users and automation system vendors to process industries will come true. This technological milestone will finally connect process automation to the omnipresent digital world. It will not only put an end to existing system limitation. It will also enable a totally new level of control, efficiency and flexibility throughout the complete life cycle of a plant.

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Ethernet-APL eliminates the need for gateways to interact with different networks and fieldbuses. It supports high bandwidth communication from device level to enterprise resource planning and from plant operation to maintenance. It will also make comprehensive field device data available for efficient system planning, accelerated implementation, improved operation and streamlined maintenance.

A New Generation of Ethernet-APL Enabled Devices

At the device level, Ethernet-APL calls for a new generation of self-contained devices which fully support the requirements of the digital age in process plant operation. Such devices provide the hardware basis for effective automation of a variety of everyday tasks. Not only are they automatically recognized by the system controller where the configuration made during commissioning is automatically transferred to the device. They are also able to provide detailed information on their operational status. On top of that they feature comprehensive device documentation directly embedded into the device. And during replacement, the new device can immediately take over the established and approved configuration settings.

Such Ethernet-APL-enabled devices will neither need any dedicated gateway to connect them to the automation system, nor do they need to be configured manually. Truly unique is their ability to communicate with the automation system while allowing direct Ethernet access from anywhere and offering the ability to directly exchange data with other devices.

Pepperl+Fuchs was among the first supporters of this new technology and has considerably contributed to the development of the Ethernet advanced physical layer. In 2015 a fully functional demonstrator was presented to the process automation world. It fulfilled the key requirements of the worldwide process industry by utilizing existing 2-wire communication infrastructures and transmitting data and power over the long distances typical of many process plants.

Ethernet-APL is a joined development of major device and system vendors in the automation sector and leading user organizations like Profibus International, ODVA, the OPC Foundation and the Fieldcomm Group. It is the new communication standard and will lead process automation into the digital world.

Going Digital while Protecting Investments

Ethernet-APL was designed to allow unlimited access to any device and function within a process plant. It is also the solution to fully integrate the field-level into the Ethernet-based communication infrastructure of an organization.

There are numerous migration paths from existing process control systems to an Ethernet-APL based system. They all have in common that existing 2-wire cables can remain in place and will continue to serve their purpose while the plant is transferred to the digital future.

If the plant already uses digital communication at field level via the established fieldbus system Profibus PA, upgrading it for Ethernet-APL communication is especially easy. In this case, all that needs to be done is to exchange existing FieldBarriers and segment protectors with APL field switches. The APL field switch will automatically adapt to the system, detect existing fieldbus devices and establish seamless communication with them.

Supporting the New Focus on Mobility

With Ethernet-APL, the hardware side of system migration primarily centers on two infrastructure components: A new APL field switch for DIN rail installation to connect APL spurs to standard Ethernet and a new APL power switch to connect the APL trunk to Ethernet communication.

Ethernet-APL not only allows the access to comprehensive device information for enhanced plant control and availability. Being a fully Ethernet-based solution, it also paves the way to highly efficient work processes from system planning via system modification and expansion all the way to ongoing maintenance.

At the core of this digital transformation of processes are mobile devices that provide unlimited access to information anytime and from any location. Pepperl+Fuchs is prepared for the new opportunities of the digital future and has presented a completely new range of mobile devices under its Ecom brand. Especially maintenance personnel will benefit from this new dimension of mobility and unlimited access to information. In a time of chronic shortness of skilled workers, more effective procedures for trouble shooting and repair are the key to getting more things done with a limited work force. Mobile devices not only reduce the workload of any service technician. They also turn into the primary tool of maintenance engineers whether they are working in the control room or directly on site.

Ecom mobile working solutions are designed with interoperability, compatibility and security in mind. Different interfaces and a cloud concept allow the combination with a wide range of field devices and software solutions. They offer rugged design for reliable operation even in demanding environments and are ideal to access comprehensive device and system information enabled by Ethernet APL.

* A. Hennecke, Marketing Manager Digital Communications, C. Uhl, Head of Communication and Leadmanagement, Pepperl+Fuchs SE, Mannheim/Germany.