Industrial Ethernet Gains Ground in Manufacturing
Nuris Ismail
Reid Paquin
DEC 04, 2012 08:00 AM
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An increasing number of manufacturing organizations are looking at industrial networking as a discipline. Many of these companies are bringing together traditional automation engineering with corporate IT to gain a cross-functional view of how industrial network performance can be improved. This article is a preview of a recent research report, "Industrial Networking: Real-time Foundation for Manufacturing and the Enterprise" that builds upon findings from Aberdeen's 2011 "Industrial Networking: Building the Business Case for Industrial Ethernet" and examines how industry leaders are taking advantage of industrial networking to enable real-time visibility into data in order to optimize production, maintenance, and safety. In particular, the new research report explores the adoption rate of industrial Ethernet protocols versus Fieldbus and the advantages that companies achieve from the different network architectures.

Manufacturers are experiencing a broad range of internal pressures centered on cost, network maintenance, and network security (Figure 1).

internal pressures driving focus on industrial networking

Previously, the lack of visibility into manufacturing operations was ranked as the top pressure being experienced by manufacturers. However, it has been displaced by the need for manufacturers to consolidate their disparate networks to facilitate improved operations performance. As it stands, manufacturers are managing multiple networks, requiring multiple skill sets, and software that analyzes the same data. Having multiple systems is an issue because extra work is required to aggregate, move, and analyze all the information. The best way to combat these disparate networks is to focus on promoting collaboration throughout the organization.

Aberdeen used four key performance criteria to distinguish the Best-in-Class from Industry Average and Laggards, where the Best-in-Class are the top 20 percent of performers, Industry Average are middle 50 percent of performers, and Laggards are the bottom 30 percent (Table 1). The Best-in-Class companies are able to directly impact the productivity of their network by optimizing their industrial network with an average of eight hours of network downtime per year as compared to Laggards, who experience 135 hours (roughly five days) of network downtime per year.

maturity class performance

The Best-in-Class accomplish this all while improving their manufacturing productivity, achieving an Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) rate of 90 percent and overachieving their operating margin by 25 percent. Simultaneously, they are also able to reduce manufacturing operations costs by reducing the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) by 11 percent.

Industrial Ethernet adoption growing for Best-in-Class

The network architecture is essential to enabling manufacturers to gain real-time visibility into operations from both the plant floor and executive levels.

When the network architecture isn't developed with both of these goals in mind, it leads to islands of disconnected networks at the field, manufacturing operations, and enterprise levels. In turn, this leads to many manufacturers having multiple networks at the same layer (requiring multiple skill sets and software) that accomplish the same tasks.

As shown in Figure 2, manufacturers are implementing many different kinds of network architectures. Overall, the Best-in-Class companies are more likely than their competitors to have some form of industrial Ethernet in their manufacturing facilities. Where they truly differentiate themselves is with their ability to implement a fully industrial Ethernet network architecture (over twice as likely). In doing so, they have been able to consolidate all their disparate and isolated networks from the field level to the enterprise level. If they have a network architecture that contains both industrial Ethernet and fieldbuses, the Best-in-Class are more likely to ensure integration between both networks.

industrial network architecture

Compared to Aberdeen 2011 study, the adoption rate of fully industrial Ethernet architecture implementations among respondents (Figure 3) has grown from 33 percent last year to 41 percent in 2012. There has also been a shift among manufacturers that still use Fieldbus to start minimizing the amount of nodes (28 percent this year to 23 percent last year). This illustrates the increased adoption of Ethernet in the manufacturing realm - and we expect the adoption rate to increase further going forward. For manufacturers that have not yet to adopt industrial Ethernet, they should start considering the benefits described above.

industrial network shift

Over the years, Aberdeen's research has seen the progression and adoption of industrial Ethernet in the manufacturing environment. Best-in-Class companies recognize the many benefits that industrial Ethernet can deliver. Before an organization plans on implementing industrial Ethernet, they need to understand that it takes a combination of organization restructuring, defined best practices, and the ability to have real-time visibility throughout the enterprise.

Aberdeen's research has seen decision-makers at both the plant and enterprise level demand greater transparency to sense, detect, decide, and respond in time to take corrective and preventative action. Companies are looking to adopt the latest industrial networking technology to harness the real-time capability of the plant floor.

Nuris Ismail is a research analyst with Aberdeen Group ( and Reid Paquin is a research associate with Aberdeen Group (

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