The digitization of the manufacturing industry is in progress after several years of governmental activities, demonstrating the benefits in proof-of-concepts and moving standards forward. However, the desire of having a seamless sensor-to-cloud communication as it is required for business models such as predictive maintenance and quality or smart robotics still faces some gaps in the network infrastructure. This whitepaper discusses the status and progress of single-pair Ethernet as a new initiative to enable IP based networks to each sensor.
As the name implies, single-pair Ethernet (SPE) reduces the connection between two communication partners to two wires versus the CAT-5 or CAT-6 based cabling in current Industrial Ethernet standards. Hence, it reduces the required space for plugs from a rather large RJ45 to much smaller plugs. This makes it much more attractive for sensor connections to fit to M8 sized connectors. As the two-wire connection requires a different physical layer specification, the IEEE has released specifications for the physical connection (PHY) from 10Mbit up to 10Gbit. They took the lead in standardizing the industrial version of SPE, coming from former initiatives for SPE in the automotive industry for car communication systems. Especially the 10Mbit version of SPE allows cable lengths of up to 1km, which makes it attractive to process automation and some of the hybrid industries to adopt their current sensor network infrastructure towards Ethernet. Currently, first PHY products are expected to hit the market. Therefore, Hilscher expects an adoption in the process industry somewhere in 2021. Discrete industries are expected to follow later towards 2024, as the Ethernet infrastructure and specifically IO-Link solves already numerous challenges in digitization today.
From Hilscher perspective, there is no doubt, that SPE will be adopted and take market share in the longer run. Our netX family of network processors offer an opportunity to adopt to SPE infrastructure and build gateways from existing network infrastructure to SPE in order to enable a migration path easily.