This recent milestone underscores how the ultra-fast communication system has taken the automation world by storm since its release, said Thomas Rettig, Senior Manager of Control Systems and Communication Architecture at Beckhoff.
Now with 3,000 officially registered device manufacturers, EtherCAT has by far the broadest base of adoption in the industrial Ethernet market. According to the ETG, the user organization with the second-highest number of registered manufacturers has only about half as many. According to Rettig, this success stems mainly from the technology itself because it delivers as many advantages to users as it does to the manufacturers of EtherCAT devices.
“EtherCAT is the ideal technology for the diverse requirements of controllers as well as peripherals,” Rettig said. “On the controller side, you want to have as little specialized hardware as possible in order to put existing computers to use, while on the device side you want total hardware integration to save costs and reduce complexity.”
With EtherCAT, all complex and time-critical functions are integrated into the device controller chips, which are available from 12 different semiconductor manufacturers. Simple devices require no microcontroller and therefore no software since some of the chips already come with I/O interfaces built-in. Since the EtherCAT controller is fully software-based, it only needs a conventional Ethernet port, which means that it supports implementation on almost any PC or microcontroller board with no additional hardware. In addition, there is the broad spectrum of available real-time operating systems: about 35 RTOSs are available for EtherCAT controllers.
The easy EtherCAT implementation provided by the ETG's extraordinary ecosystem with support from Beckhoff is the second major factor for the system’s success. It encompasses extensive implementation guidelines and the Developer Forum on the organization’s website with almost 7,000 development support posts by ETG employees. Users have already downloaded the “Slave Stack Code” and related software tools, which Beckhoff supplies to all of the nearly 6,000 ETG members at no charge, more than 11,000 times. And the Conformance Test Tool, a practical development tool that ensures compatibility with the standard, is another important building block of the EtherCAT ecosystem.
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