I’m in Chicago this week for a series of meetings. The triggering event was a visit from Chuck Lukasik and John Wozniak of the CC-Link Partner Association. What a great meeting. I love a deep dive into networking technology. And..from people who don’t try to mis-characterize the competition. And also people who can take my challenging comments and answer them. Sure keeps me from going to sleep in meetings.

CC-Link has released a controller-level network based on Ethernet. They just announced a device-level network also based on Ethernet.

Now–a cautionary word. When I say “Ethernet”, what do you think? Wrong. In common usage, we say Ethernet when we mean Ethernet plus the entire TCP/IP protocol suite including http, ftp, snmp, smtp, cip and the like. But Ethernet really only applies to the physical layer. So, CC-Link IE Field Network is Ethernet at the physical layer (Cat 5e, RJ-45 connectors and the rest), but the protocols and ASICs are all developed specifically for CC-Link. This is not proprietary–CC-Link is just as “open” a standard as are EtherNet/IP, EtherCat, Ethernet PowerLink and Profibus/Profinet. And the use of custom ASICs (chips) is not unique to CC-Link, either. EtherCat, Ethernet PowerLink and Profinet IRT all use them. I’ve also heard that EtherNet/IP uses (or will use) one for a motion control option.

CC-Link IE (for industrial Ethernet) Field Network is a spec-killer. It blazes at 1 gigabit/sec. Since the network uses custom firmware, network design, implementation and use becomes faster and easier. As they like to say, “It requires no IT knowledge.” For the electrician (technician) installing this network, it is similar to, but easier than, a device network. Essentially just plug it in. The configuration tool is easier than SNMP. It can be daisy-chain (they call it line), star or ring–or a combination. It is deterministic, yet simultaneously transmits control, log and diagnostic data.

It makes no pretense to “standard” Ethernet–as are basic Profinet and EtherNet/IP. However, it is specifically designed for manufacturing networks and targeted at control engineers and technicians. Mitsubishi, an automation supplier very strong in Japan and strong in China, is the systems supplier behind this network. So, third party suppliers have been lining up support since everyone wants to penetrate the China market. While not strong in North America, it is growing and putting pressure on Rockwell Automation (primary automation supporter) and EtherNet/IP.

The next few years should be very interesting regarding the automation networking landscape. (No, I’m not “prognosticating” a winner.)

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