Factory automation safety next battleground in network wars, study says

Factory automation safety networks are emerging as the next competitive battleground in the automation network wars.

Comments Off on Factory automation safety next battleground in network wars, study says March 20, 2009
by Design Engineering staff

Drawing on legacy battles in areas such as serial-based device networks, process fieldbuses, and Ethernet-based automation networks, suppliers and network trade associations alike are ramping up their arsenals for competition in this increasingly important arena.

According to a new ARC Advisory Group study, this race will fuel growth in the worldwide market for factory automation safety networks at a compounded annual growth rate of 39.3 percent over the next five years. The market totaled fewer than 700 thousand nodes in 2008, a figure that is forecast to grow to more than 3.6 million.

“The safety network market will benefit from the same quantifiable cost savings in areas such as wiring and installation that fueled adoption of standard device networks over hard wiring, plus they can deliver concrete business benefits in areas such as regulatory compliance and reduced shutdowns,” said vice-president Chantal Polsonetti, the principal author of ARC’s “Factory Automation Safety Networks Worldwide Outlook.” “The timing and impact of safety regulations remains a wild card in many parts of the world, but both existing suppliers and new entrants are lining up their safety network strategies as the technology increasingly emerges as a key differentiator.”

Growth in the safety network market will parallel that of serial-based device networks from the perspective of the wiring savings a bus-based network can deliver relative to hard wiring of safety components. These savings are realized in areas such as reduced cable costs, smaller panels and cable trays, fewer components required, reduced cost of wire installation and greater flexibility in reconfiguring the network as operations dictate.

Limiting the operational impact of a safety event is another business. Ability to implement controlled or isolated shutdowns by decelerating motors or isolating emergency stops to specific zones has significant benefits relative to tripped E-stops or light curtains initiating complete system shutdowns and often time-consuming restarts.  Servo drive manufacturers have already recognized this trend and are moving toward integrated safety network components for their drive systems.

Integration of safety functionality into servo drives and other motion control equipment is one of the most intriguing drivers in the factory automation safety marketplace. Embedding a safety controller and safe I/O right into a servo drive with a soft starter eliminates the need for a separate safety controller and I/O. Safety functions are integrated directly into the drive, eliminating the need for external power contactors and speed monitoring equipment and enabling local control.
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