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Software gives independence from fieldbus suppliers

25 November, 2022

A Swedish communications software specialist has developed a software-based way of implementing Profinet and EtherCat protocols on industrial equipment that, it says, will cut time and costs for device developers as well as freeing them from dependence from specific suppliers.

RT-Labs also says that its pre-certified U-Phy software avoids the need for developers to be experts in the protocols.

Until now, royalty-based custom chips (Asics) or dedicated communications modules have been needed to allow industrial devices, such as sensors and actuators, to communicate with other devices on fieldbus networks. According to RT-Labs, this has several disadvantages, including high costs, tying the devices to a single fieldbus, and a lack of flexibility that limits product innovation. These limitations have been tolerated, it says, because of the perceived lack of risk associated with this approach.

But, argues RT-Labs, this is no longer the case. As supply chains lengthen and lead times are extended, it says, developers “have become acutely aware of the risks associated with exposure to a limited number of suppliers for niche hardware solutions”.

The ready-to-use U-Phy liberates industrial device developers from hardware supply chains and royalty payments by allowing them to implement their chosen protocol using certified software that runs on an open hardware design. It cuts development times “significantly”, taking just three to five weeks to get up and running. Developers can quickly produce new products by modifying their code to target a different communications protocol.

RT-Lab’s U-Phy software will allow industrial device developers to implement Profinet or EtherCat on open hardware

U-Phy comes with an easily modified API (application programming interface) that allows users to add value to their product designs by including extra functions.

To support the release of U-Phy, RT-Labs has developed an evaluation board to explore the software-based approach to fieldbus communications. It is also offering an open hardware design (Module01).

RT-Labs helps OEMs to implment industrial communications through a combination of software components and development tools. It supports communications stacks including Profinet, EtherCat, IO-Link, CC-Link, Modbus, and CANOpen, and aims to provide simple, cost-effective industrial communications without needing third-party modules. The stacks are said to be suitable for embedded systems with limited resources.

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