EtherCAT

Ethernet for Control Automation Technology

Technology

EtherCAT, an abbreviation for Ethernet for Control Automation Technology, is an advanced industrial Ethernet protocol specifically designed to meet the stringent requirements of real-time automation. While using standard Ethernet frames and physical layers as per IEEE 802.3, EtherCAT is uniquely adapted to tackle the challenges in automation that involve exact real-time demands and systems comprising numerous nodes each handling small quantities of cyclic process data. Traditional Ethernet networks find such tasks challenging due to the significant data rate reductions when individual Ethernet datagrams are used for each node.

The brilliance of EtherCAT’s technology lies in its high-performance operation mode where a single frame can efficiently manage the control data for all nodes. In an EtherCAT network, the master sends out a datagram which sequentially moves through each node. As the frame passes through, each EtherCAT field device reads the data intended for it and instantly adds its data into the frame. This process is not only quick, with delays predominantly caused by hardware propagation times, but also remarkably efficient, boosting the datagram’s effective data rate well above 90%.

The brilliance of EtherCAT’s technology lies in its high-performance operation mode where a single frame can efficiently manage the control data for all nodes. In an EtherCAT network, the master sends out a datagram which sequentially moves through each node. As the frame passes through, each EtherCAT field device reads the data intended for it and instantly adds its data into the frame. This process is not only quick, with delays predominantly caused by hardware propagation times, but also remarkably efficient, boosting the datagram’s effective data rate well above 90%.

The EtherCAT frame can be sent at regular intervals, typically in the range of hundreds of microseconds to a few milliseconds, depending on the application’s requirements. This consistent timing ensures that data is not only transmitted rapidly but also with a predictable and reliable rhythm, which is crucial for maintaining the integrity and efficiency of real-time automated processes.

EtherCAT® is a registered trademark and patented technology, licensed by Beckhoff Automation GmbH, Germany.

Robot Workers In Factory

Applications

EtherCAT is widely used in various industrial applications where speed, precision, and efficiency are critical. In robotics, it enables high-speed communication and precise control, essential for complex movements and automation tasks. EtherCAT is also fundamental in operating servos and drives, providing real-time control and synchronization necessary for advanced motion control systems. Its use extends to packaging machinery, automotive manufacturing, and CNC machining, where its rapid data exchange and precision significantly enhance operational efficiency.

In robotics, EtherCAT enables high-speed, precise control and communication. This is essential for robotic arms used in manufacturing, assembly lines, and even in sophisticated robotics like medical or service robots. The real-time data transmission capabilities of EtherCAT are crucial for the coordination and accurate movement of robotic systems.

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining processes benefit greatly from EtherCAT’s precision and speed. In CNC machines, EtherCAT allows for the precise control of tools and machinery, ensuring high-quality production with tight tolerances. Its fast communication speeds help in achieving efficient, real-time control of the machining processes.

EtherCAT is extensively used in automated production and assembly lines, particularly in industries like automotive manufacturing. It ensures synchronized operation of various components in the production line, from conveyor belts to assembly robots, enabling a seamless and efficient production process. EtherCAT’s ability to handle large networks of devices with minimal latency makes it ideal for complex industrial environments where numerous sensors, actuators, and control systems must work in harmony.

Benefits of EtherCAT

High-Speed Communication and Reduced Response Time

EtherCAT’s primary advantage lies in its ultra-fast data transmission capability. This speed is achieved through an innovative “processing-on-the-fly” technique, which allows data to be read and interpreted as it passes through each node. As a result, the system response times are significantly reduced, facilitating near-instantaneous communication across the network. This rapid communication is crucial in environments requiring immediate reactions, such as in high-speed robotic operations or precision-driven CNC machining, ensuring enhanced productivity and efficiency.

Scalability and Large Network Capacity

EtherCAT excels in scalability, capable of supporting up to 65,535 devices in a single network. This large network capacity is a result of its efficient Ethernet frame utilization, allowing for extensive and complex networks without compromising performance. This scalability is particularly beneficial in industries with numerous interconnected devices, like automotive manufacturing or automated warehousing, where the network can grow or change without necessitating a complete overhaul of the control system.

Distributed Clocks for Precise Synchronization

A notable feature of EtherCAT is its distributed clock system, which provides exceptionally precise synchronization across all devices in the network. This synchronization is vital in applications where timing is critical, such as in synchronized motion control for servos and drives in automated assembly lines. The distributed clocks ensure that operations are perfectly timed and coordinated, reducing errors and enhancing the overall quality of processes. This precision is especially important in sectors like advanced manufacturing and robotics, where even minor timing discrepancies can significantly impact the final product’s quality.

Implementation

Implementing EtherCAT in an industrial environment involves integrating EtherCAT-compatible devices into an existing system. This typically requires an EtherCAT master, such as a PLC or motion controller, and EtherCAT slaves, which are the devices equipped with EtherCAT capabilities. The process includes designing the network topology, installing the hardware, and configuring the system with specialized software tools.

RT-Labs offers two notable EtherCAT products that facilitate the implementation process: SOEM (Simple Open EtherCAT Master) and SOES (Simple Open EtherCAT Slave). These products can significantly streamline the process of setting up an EtherCAT network, especially in terms of software development and device integration.

SOEM is a master stack designed for high portability and performance. It can be integrated into a variety of systems to function as the EtherCAT master. SOEM is particularly useful for developers and integrators looking to add EtherCAT master functionality to their systems without the complexities typically associated with such a task. Its simplicity and efficiency make it a popular choice for a wide range of industrial applications.

SOES is a slave stack meant to be embedded into devices that will act as EtherCAT slaves. It provides a straightforward way to equip devices with EtherCAT slave functionalities, ensuring they can seamlessly communicate within an EtherCAT network. This makes SOES an ideal solution for device manufacturers who want to incorporate EtherCAT compatibility into their products with minimal hassle.

Certification

For EtherCAT devices to operate optimally within a network, they must undergo a comprehensive certification process. This process ensures that each device complies with the EtherCAT standard and can interoperate seamlessly with other EtherCAT devices. The certification is overseen by the EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG), which provides comprehensive guidelines and support throughout the process.

The certification involves extensive testing of the device’s EtherCAT functionalities, focusing on aspects such as communication efficiency, data integrity, and compatibility with other devices in the network. This testing is crucial for verifying that the devices meet the high standards of performance and reliability expected in industrial settings.

Achieving certification is not just a formality; it is an assurance of the device’s quality and network stability. For manufacturers, it signifies that their products are reliable and ready for integration into sophisticated EtherCAT networks. For users, it provides confidence in the seamless and efficient operation of their EtherCAT-enabled systems.

RT-Labs offers valuable support in this area.  We can assist manufacturers in preparing their products for the certification process, ensuring compliance with EtherCAT standards. This service is particularly beneficial for companies looking to streamline their certification journey, leveraging RT-Labs’ knowledge and experience to identify and address potential issues early in the process.

Add support or development partner services

Get a team of experts to assist you! Support is provided by engineers with extensive knowledge of embedded realtime systems. Wan’t more assistance? Get a resident engineer or let RT-Labs take on a role as a complete solution provider. Our customers can be divided into three categories depending on how much one wants RT-Labs to be engaged in the project at hand.

Software Support

Get your own support person! Many times it is a bad move to address support issues as a generic service. Available with all licensed purchases.

Cooperative team

Work with us as a team member. RT-Labs is often invited to be a part of the team, together with in- house technicians or consultants contracted by the customer

Development partner

Do you need to rapidly deploy a complete solution? Do you have a set budget and want better cost control? Do you find it difficult to staff your project? Give us a call.

Call an expert

We don’t do gatekeeping! Call us to get in contact with a skilled person with several control system projects under the belt.

Daniel Udd

Daniel Udd

Software platform, EtherCAT, CANOpen, Group Manager

+46 768 50 74 55

Hans-Erik Floryd

Hans-Erik Floryd

CTO, Software platform, CANopen, EtherCAT

+46 709 68 38 93