“EtherCAT has a very interesting combination of unique selling points”

“EtherCAT has a very interesting combination of unique selling points”

Mr. Martin Rostan, Executive Director of EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG) was our special guest on Podcast episode 4 to discuss EtherCAT technology in today's industrial automation. He started working at Beckhoff in 1998 and joined ETG in 2003. Up to now, his career has been associated with more than 30 years of experience as a technology engineer.

* It has been 31 years now since you graduated in 1992 from the University of Stuttgart with your major in Engineering and we also learnt that you did your diploma thesis at the University of Southampton in 1991 in the UK. If you could mention only 3 important milestones in your life since then, what would they be?

That is when my kids were born in 1995 and 1998. And actually, my son was born in 1995 is now also in the industry. And that is great. And the other massive thing was me joining the Beckhoff company in 1998 and then getting entrusted with EtherCAT Technology Group in 2003.

* When it comes to technology and engineering, people think this field is very dry and boring. What do you think about this? What attracted you to have a career in this field?

It is the opposite. I think it is not boring at all. If you have a certain interest in technology and in science, which is of course the prerequisite, engineering is super exciting because we see so many different things in our professional life. And let us face it, the engineers that have to save the world.

* As a provider of EtherCAT technology, can you define EtherCAT technology in the most understandable way?

I would say EtherCAT is meant to exchange data with a lot of nodes, and devices, with a small amount of data each in the shortest possible cycle time. Whenever that comes in useful and comes in handy, EtherCAT is the right choice. So, for real-time updates of lots of small pieces of data in a distributed environment. And there are lots of applications that require that kind of feature set. And that's where EtherCAT has its biggest advantages.

* According to the press release on your website Ethercat.org on April 18, 2023, you at ETG published the node figures that have reached nearly 60 million in 2022. This chart shows the exponential growth over the years from 2014 until 2022. This can be understood as EtherCAT technology is about to become the market leader. Even though EtherCAT technology was launched later on the market, it has been outperforming the rest of the technologies. In your opinion, what is the secret behind this?

The accumulated number now is approaching 60 million in 2022. There were over 18 million nodes deployed in that particular year. And yes, those figures show that we have just reached the market-leading position with EtherCAT and with the strongest growth in the last couple of years. And it took us a while to get off, to get started because we were not pushed by the giants, to begin with.

* In which regions of the world is EtherCAT technology popular? What is the development potential of EtherCAT technology in Vietnam?

A unique feature of our EtherCAT technology is that there are more than 7000 member companies from 72 countries, which means that we have a pretty even distribution around the world. We came from Europe, so we have slightly over 40% which are from Europe, but also 41% are from Asia, which makes us Asia's largest fieldbus community. And the growth is now more in Asia with new members, and the adoption rate of EtherCAT in China, Korea, Japan, but also Southeast Asia is outstanding. So, Asia is an essential important region for EtherCAT.

Vietnam particularly is a potential market that is for end users rather than a market with many controller manufacturers or device manufacturers. So, I think end users understand the importance of EtherCAT technology, and this is why we are here to explain it to them. Fieldbus is not just a cable of distinct colors, but there is a technology behind it that makes all the difference. After understanding these, EtherCAT adoption rates in Vietnam will also increase, and they will understand that they can simplify their network architecture, they can speed up production, can find out network problems faster because we have superior diagnostic capabilities.

* Speaking of the EtherCAT seminar series globally, when & where did you start the first seminar? What is the idea behind holding a seminar on the EtherCAT technology?

At the beginning of this seminar series, we did it in our home country, in Germany in 2004. At the same time, we also held seminars in 43 countries worldwide, and this is not the first time we have organized in Vietnam, this is the third time we have organized here. We tried to find more potential to develop EtherCAT.

We find that having a booth at a trade show is nice, but you only speak to people for five to 10 minutes each. Whereas, if you hold a seminar, somebody attends for half a day or a full-day seminar, you have so much more content that you can deliver.

* At HELUKABEL, we have been a member of EtherCAT Technology Group since January 2016. If an enterprise would like to join EtherCAT Technology Group, what benefits do group members expect to have?

If you are a maker of EtherCAT products, you get access to the members-only website, to the specifications, and you can get your product performance-tested, and get implementation support from the ETG team. So, there are a lot of advantages for makers of EtherCAT products.

But about one-third of all members are users of EtherCAT products, and they also enjoy being part of the community, reaching out to the experts, to get information, guidelines, implementation guidelines, etc. And since membership is free of charge, it is not a big step to join ETG and get informed. If you are in our membership browser, you get updates on what we do and where we go.

* Among the industrial ethernet technologies available on the market, what are the strengths of EtherCAT technology?

EtherCAT has a very interesting combination of unique selling points to use in some marketing expressions. We are surely the fastest, but not only that, we are the only hard real-time ethernet technology that does not need any extra hardware on the controller side, which means that any PC or any microcontroller board with an ethernet port is good enough to be an EtherCAT controller. We do not have to handle addresses, they are distributed manually, and we don't need switches, so that makes us very easy to use.

We have advanced diagnostics, and we have complete technological flexibility. And last but not least, the technology is stable. We have never changed it. We have only enhanced it, which means that you can use the device of today in a network of 2004. And this stability has been particularly important for users as well. And so, we have a lot of unique features in EtherCAT. It is not only the performance that makes EtherCAT very interesting.

* In EtherCAT technology, there are 2 special types, EtherCAT G and EtherCAT P, so what are the key differences between these two technologies?

EtherCAT P combines power and data over the same cable, we tried with P-O-E on EtherCAT ago, but it was not successful because P-O-E (power over the ethernet) was invented for the IT guys. And it is 48V, whereas, in our industry, we love the 24V. And we need two power supplies, not just one. So EtherCAT P combines ethernet and two times 24V to make it an EtherCAT cable for conductors only, which provides two times 24V 3A. You can power devices over the same cable that you use for the data connection. And it is “cascadable”, so you can add more nodes subsequently. Besides, EtherCAT G is the enhancement of EtherCAT towards a gigabit bit rate, therefore, the same thing scaled up.

* In technology EtherCAT P – data & power will be transmitted with only one cable. What technical requirements for this cable to achieve the highest efficiency?

We recommend using cables with shields and a suitable diameter for the transmission function. You need to know what kind of energy you want to transmit on the cable. And of course, the more copper the better because it will help transmission over longer distances. You should use quad cables, which are four conductors twisted around the same core.

This cable has good anti-interference ability, and we also have cable color regulation to distinguish them. If we want to extend to higher voltages, we can use hybrid cables, which are more complicated. Of course, this cable allows transmission of up to 850 volts and 64 amps over the same conductor, the cable also runs EtherCAT technology and is twice 24 volts.

* What advice do you have for factories that are applying or considering applying EtherCAT technology to their production process?

We have many vendors and many EtherCAT products. I will focus on products that have been properly certified because those products have been tested in the lab and show how hard they work to get that certification.

You can therefore count on these products to be fully compatible with the application. That is my advice for products that work. And of course, for products like cables and specs, talk to companies like HELUKABEL because they will know what they can do to help you.

* What is the next chapter of EtherCAT technology?

Regarding EtherCAT technology, we announced EtherCAT G technology, and there was little demand for this technology as EtherCAT was basically fast enough for their application. Therefore, we will continue to focus on developing and fixing bugs based on EtherCAT technology.

The research and development process (R&D) has been restarted, and I think this will be the next layer step for EtherCAT to fully launch gigabit-based technology, which has a greater advantage because we can integrate completely 100-megabit devices. The future of EtherCAT is mostly 100 megabits augmented by gigabits where it is needed.

Mr. Martin Rostan's sharing session brought a lot of useful information about EtherCAT technology as well as the upcoming development trend of this technology. We, HELUKABEL Vietnam, thank him very much for his enthusiastic support and we would like to send him our best wishes for health and success.