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Remote I/O role grows as Ethernet displaces Profibus

01 March, 2003

Remote I/O role grows as Ethernet displaces Profibus

Automation users expect remote I/O to play an increasingly important role in their installations, according to a new survey. Nearly half of the companies questioned in a pan-European study by the market researcher IMS, expect remote I/O to account for more than 60% of the total I/O connected to their PLCs by the end of next year.

The survey also revealed how industrial Ethernet is starting to displace established fieldbus technologies. The consensus was that the use of existing fieldbuses is decreasing, with a fifth of the correspondents expecting to use less Profibus DP by 2004. However, IMS research analyst John Devlin cautions that "the change may take a little longer to penetrate down to the device level than is indicated by these results".

At present, Profibus DP dominates remote I/O communications, accounting for more than a third (36.6%) of the remote I/O shipped in Europe last year. Despite open fieldbuses having been available for more than a decade, proprietary protocols are still popular, representing 28.2% of remote I/O sold in 2002. Other protocols holding significant market shares included Interbus (11.2%), DeviceNet (7.3%) and CANopen (6.2%).

Third-party suppliers such as Beckhoff, Wago and Phoenix Contact are offering significant competition to the major automation players in the remote I/O market, and have helped it to evolve, says IMS. They have also helped to create a more fragmented supplier base, with the ten largest suppliers of remote I/O for PLCs representing 77.5% of the market. The equivalent figure for the PLC market is close to 90%.

"These third-party companies have promoted the use of more open networks," says Devlin.

• Another IMS survey has revealed that nearly 90% of end-users in the process industries now accept that PLCs are suitable for process control, suggesting that the investments made by PLC suppliers to improve the process control capabilities of their products has, to some extent, paid off. However, IMS analyst John Devlin warns that "despite the increased confidence in the capabilities of PLCs, it does not appear that customers in the process sectors will start to use them instead of DCS or hybrid controllers en masse". This is borne out by the fact that the companies surveyed expect little change in their use of PLCs over the coming three years. Only PC-based controllers are expected to see a significant increase in use by the end of 2004.

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