Why use EtherCAT?

November 8, 2022
Jacob Braxley

The following is our perspective on some of the best information available to us on EtherCAT. Provided by the EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG). Full credit to them for producing this content.

1. EtherCAT Performance

ETG: EtherCAT is the fastest Ethernet communication protocol for industrial applications and synchronized with nanosecond performance. This is a big addition for machines where the data packets have to be sent in a real-time deterministic manner. The determinism reduces the wait times between processes and improves the machine performance. The EtherCAT architecture normally reduces the load on the CPU by up to 30% in comparison to other communication protocols. The improved performance creates greates throughput and costs.

RSI: The performance really is exact. Most customs will never need the type of node to node synchronization that can be obtained. The CPU performance is the most important factor for most customers, but it is nice to know the capability is there if needed.

2. EtherCAT Topology Flexibility

ETG: EtherCAT communication protocol offers various flexible topologies.The machine structure establishes the flexibility in the topology. In the traditional Industrial communication protocol designs, there are limits on the number of switches and hubs that can be connected severely limiting the network topology. EtherCAT does not need switches or hubs allowing for limitless possibilities when it comes to network topology. With the EtherCAT network, a user can achieve line, tree, star arrangements and any combinations leading to an unlimited number of nodes. Through automatic link detection, nodes and network segments can be disconnected during operation and then reconnected. A ring topology is possible for the sake of cable redundancy. All a PC needs for redundancy is a second Ethernet connection. This makes possible to switch out nodes during a machine operation.

RSI: Most system designs will want to error out when you remove parts of it even briefly. However, adding, removing, or rearranging nodes is going to take no real configuration effort on the part of a user. We can do development to support other cases if needed.

3. EtherCAT Ease of Use

ETG: It's easy to use and durable. System costs are influenced by configuration, diagnostics, and maintenance. These tasks are all greatly simplified by the Ethernet fieldbus: There is no need for manual configuration because EtherCAT can be configured to assign addresses automatically. Peer-to-peer physics and low bus load increase immunity to electromagnetic noise. The network accurately locates potential disruptions, which significantly cuts down on the amount of time needed for troubleshooting. The network checks for discrepancies when it starts up by comparing the intended and actual layouts. The effectiveness of EtherCAT also aids in system configuration by removing the need for network tuning. The large bandwidth makes it possible to send additional TCP/IP in addition to the control data. The administration of MAC addresses and IP addresses, as well as work from the IT experts to set up switches and routers, are not necessary because EtherCAT itself is not based on TCP/IP.

RSI: It’s just easy to use. You CAN get complicated if your application needs it. But most people don’t need specific node identity configuration. Like many aspects of EtherCAT and the RMP, we focus on rapid development without extensive costs. For example, NodeInfo implementations are a one time configuration that lets you a node in any number and type of system layouts.

4. EtherCAT Safety

ETG: Would you like to add integral safety as part of the network architecture? No issue using FailSafe instead of EtherCAT (FSoE). Through TÜV certified products that have been available on the market since 2005, FSoE is demonstrated in use. The protocol is appropriate for both centralized and decentralized control systems and satisfies the requirements for SIL 3 systems. FSoE can be applied to other bus systems due to the Black Channel method and the particularly lean safety container. Lean methodology and this integrated approach assist in reducing system costs. A non-safety-critical controller can also take in and use safety information.

RSI: The RMP leverages this to allow you to use an FSoE safety system on the same network. It simplifies and reduces the cost of a traditional system with a separate safety controller.

5. EtherCAT Affordability

ETG: Affordability EtherCAT delivers the features of Industrial Ethernet at a price similar or even below that of a classic fieldbus system. The only hardware required by the master device is an Ethernet port – no expensive interface cards or co-processors are necessary. EtherCAT Slave Controllers are available from various manufacturers in different formats: as an ASIC, based on FPGA, or as an option for standard microprocessor series. Since these inexpensive controllers shoulder all the time-critical tasks, EtherCAT itself doesn’t place any performance requirements on the CPU of field devices, which keeps device costs down. Since EtherCAT doesn’t require switches or other active infrastructure components, the costs for these components and their installation, configuration, and maintenance are also eliminated.

RSI: This seems so much better than being at the whims of a single vendor. It's designed to be resistant to exploitation. It isn’t something that you need to think about unless you are building your own EtherCAT SubOrdinate device. Just be assured that the EtherCAT’s resilience is rather than what any given company or country of origin can provide.

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