Historical trends in industrial communication systems

Today, hardly any industrial plant operates without fieldbus or Ethernet systems. These industrial communication systems had their beginnings in the mid 1970s. They replaced the parallel wiring which was the standard at that time for the transfer of binary signals, as well as analog signal transfer. Communication was performed digitally. The results were the so-called local area networks (LANs), i.e. small to medium-size networks, mainly in the management of plants.

The main trend of industrial communication systems today is in the direction of Industrial Ethernet, which links the organization of industrial plants and the actuators themselves of the various production and manufacturing processes to each other.


Since 1975, various systems for industrial communication have developed from Modbus and Ethernet. In the following, only the systems newly created during the corresponding period are listed again. However, all systems continue to be used and developed further since their creation.


Remote IO

Sercos I
Sercos II

Safety Networks
Sensor Networks
Wireless Networks
Sercos III
Profinet IO
Modbus TCP

Previous and expected future users of the industrial communication systems as a result of the trends

Until now, mainly the automobile industry was the pioneer for the use of leading-edge industrial communication systems. However, since the beginning of the 2000s, the automated manufacturing and production industry developed more and more towards Industrial Ethernet.
In future it is to be expected that operation with the corresponding systems will be performed especially in the sector of renewable energies, as there are hardly any other options for letting these dynamic networks work with sufficient speed and complexity.

Overall, the tendency here is to increasingly complex communication systems (more in the next section). In the course of globalization, this will initially be an immense competitive advantage for the companies using these technologies first. However, it is to be assumed that soon after, the systems will become a standard.
The following should also not be forgotten: There are certifiable standards for Ethernet and fieldbus elements that make them compatible with each other. In most cases, uncertified devices will not be approved for operation, as they cannot exchange their data with other fieldbus or Ethernet components.

Development and use versus the previous industrial communication systems

As already stated, the general tendency is towards Industrial Ethernet.
Many companies already work with local networks (LANs) for management and organization of their operation. These are now to be expanded to the production actuators, for example manufacturing robots. These industrial communication systems are designed to make best use of:

→ Raw materials
very tight control of production and especially dosing processes.

→ Primary energy,
which not only follows the historical efforts in regard to saving of production costs and especially in the sector of energy consumption, but should also lead to fewer CO2 emissions.

Other advantages are:

→ improved capability of order-related manufacture and the resulting ability to reduce stock.

→ In relation to this, predictive diagnoses and fewer downtimes.

→ Quality improvement with the help of the option to constantly monitor tolerances and measuring values.


Which advantages does Industrial Ethernet have for enterprises?

There is a reason why Industrial Ethernet systems are called real-time Ethernet systems. No other technology transfers data so quickly:
Only 10 years ago, the max. performance of Ethernet was limited to 10 Mbps, which of course was in no way suitable for a complex real-time data transfer. The subsequent increased use of switches, full-duplex transmission, and creation of capabilities for message prioritization created the capacity for creation of technologies like Fast Ethernet with a collision-free data transfer rate of 100 Mbps.
This represented some of the most important progress in the historical development of industrial communication systems.

Furthermore, there are efforts to make the installation and operation of systems as easy as possible, in spite of their increasing complexity. Transparent network transitions in case of side-by-side fieldbus and Ethernet systems by now are almost a matter of course. Additionally, there are the following simplifications:

→ Only one cable has to be laid instead of several cables. The installation expenditure cannot be lower.

→ The training of the installation and maintenance personnel and the maintenance of the systems themselves require less and less time.

→ In connection with this, the lower spare parts stock and the shorter fault correction time are not to be scoffed at.

→ Uniform configuration and engineering tools make sure that all information is available in real-time on all devices of the network for processing.

Possibilities for non-industrial use of the described communication systems

In addition to the named industry branches, the increasingly intelligent and powerful communication systems will also become useful in the public sector:

→ For better use of infrastructure: With modern technology, a more intelligent routing of traffic flows even during rush hour.

→ In the sector of building automation, Ethernet or fieldbus systems can considerably improve the efficiency in the areas of current consumption, air-conditioning, heating, and ventilation.

→ Distribution of the load onto the public power grid can be eased with the aid of this technology.

Industrial Ethernet is thus not only an end in itself for the economy, but can also improve quality of life in general and can contribute considerably to climate protection.