Industry 4.0: are we really done with PROFIBUS?
30 June 2016
This article provides some personal insights from the SPS fair in Italy regarding market trends especially for field-bus technologies and the transition to the future. The information gathered comes from customers’ feedbacks during the event.
The SPS Italy fair took place from the 21st to the 24th of May 2016 in Parma. PROCENTEC participated at the event with its own booth and, as a Sales Engineer for PROCENTEC, I had the chance to talk to numerous customers and experienced professionals in the industry. Everyone was interested in Industry 4.0 and the future of industrial automation but the reality is that this is a crucial transition moment and PROFIBUS is still the main player in the market.
The event is the main appointment in Italy for the industrial automation industry. Originating from the homonymous fair which has been taking place in Germany for the last 20 years, the 2016 Italian edition has seen 28.614 visitors (+22% compared with 2015) and 674 exhibitors (+11% from 2015). The increase in participation is an important aspect which shows that people are seeking knowledge and information.
INDUSTRY 4.0 AND THE BUS WARS
The main topic of the event was, of course, Industry 4.0 and the digital factory. This is a broad topic that everyone is talking about nowadays, but confusion is also widely spread. My personal view about Industry 4.0 is the idea of a plant where intelligent devices are able to gather much more data and transfer more useful information than before becoming faster and more efficient.
But the heart of Industry 4.0 is the protocol of communication. This evolution brings along the development of new protocols and field-buses: from PROFIBUS to PROFINET, from Devicenet to Ethernet IP, from Modbus to Modbus TCP. But also, manufacturers are starting to develop their own protocols such as EtherCAT and Powerlink. To have a clearer idea, I suggest reading the article written by Paulo Silva, CTO at PROCENTEC 'The Net Wars (fieldbus wars reloaded)'. This article gives a clear picture of the “Bus wars” that is happening in the market.
From my experience at the SPS fair by talking to customers, I can fairly say that the trend is the same. While PROFIBUS is still the dominant player in Italy, Industrial Ethernet is on the rise, with PROFINET being the leader protocol, but a fair good amount of customers reported that they are investing to switch to protocols such as EtherCAT and Ethernet IP. My impression is that 50% of the customers is still using PROFIBUS and have no intention to change in the near future, while the other half is split between PROFINET and all other Industrial Ethernet protocols.
On the other hand, however, I can feel that confusion is leading at the moment: many customers that are using PROFIBUS are scared by the future. They feel like they have to keep up with the market trends because they think no players will be left in the PROFIBUS market and many don’t know how to make the transition to new technologies or do not have the urgency at all at the moment. Moreover, another important point to note is the need of support, maintenance and knowledge regarding both PROFIBUS and PROFINET. My everyday job is to reassure customers that PROCENTEC is here to stay with PROFIBUS for the next decade, while transitioning to PROFINET and Industrial Ethernet.
PROCENTEC’s support team travels worldwide every day to solve problems on PROFIBUS and PROFINET networks. Here are some tips in order to make your PROFIBUS network more reliable: 'How to extend the life of your PROFIBUS installation with a few easy tips'.
KNOW-HOW TO MAINTAIN YOUR INSTALLATION
Another key take away from what I am seeing in the market every day, is the need for the right knowledge and training for the people who are responsible for the plant performance. Predictive maintenance of PROFIBUS and PROFINET installations is essential in order to prevent highly costly plant’s downtimes. With a small investment in the right training and in the best tools in the market, companies can save millions of euros by effectively operate with their PROFIBUS or PROFINET networks. In the following article PROCENTEC’s UK distributor Verwer Training gives a great overview of how ProfiTrace, the most powerful mobile analyser for PROFIBUS networks, operates in order to perform a perfect network maintenance: 'What can I do with ProfiTrace 2?
In conclusion, the SPS fair was a great professional and intense moment to feel first-hand how the industry is reshaping itself every day. While the transition to Industrial Ethernet is palpable on every level, no we are not done with PROFIBUS. In fact, it is still the main industrial communication protocol implemented in the Italian market. PROCENTEC is here to stay for the following years with supporting, training and providing diagnostic and maintenance solutions for PROFIBUS, while transitioning to the future.