The Final Push for APL

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PROFINET for the process industry is off to a flying start

Sometimes you get the feeling that it’s almost good etiquette for work to be delayed in large-scale projects. It doesn’t have to be this way, though, as shown by work being carried out on the 2-wire Ethernet solution for process automation, or Ethernet APL (Advanced Physical Layer) for short. For three years now, PI has been promoting the topic in close coordination with participating user organizations – ODVA, the FieldComm Group and now the OPC Foundation as well – in addition to twelve industrial partners, and consistently adhering to set time frames.

This is how the standardization work for 10 Mbps Ethernet technology over a 2-wire twisted-pair cable with cable distances of up to 1,000 m (10BASE-T1L) was completed on time in late 2019. This standard forms the foundation for integration of Ethernet APL into Ethernet protocol specifications. Standardization comes along with a whole host of benefits for the user, as standard chips can be used and per-device connection costs are reduced, for example. This is why chip manufacturers were also brought on board early. Specifications for intrinsically safe communication and energy supply, as well as the associated profiles, are also being worked on so as to enable the use of Industrial Ethernet field devices in potentially explosive areas up to Zone 0 or Class I/Division 1.

Positioned in this way, PROFINET has the potential to establish itself in the process industry not only as a backbone, but at the field level as well. Preparations for the most important trade fair in the process automation sector – Achema, which will be held in June 2021 – are currently in full swing. The first measuring instruments for the process industry with Ethernet APL, those for recording temperature, pressure, level and flow, as well as actuators, will be presented in Frankfurt.

Process automation is being faced with major challenges by digitization and Industry 4.0. Classic fieldbus connections are certainly very powerful, and good solutions for connecting to hazardous areas, or integrating into Ethernet, have been created over time. Increasingly complex network structures – like those resulting from using proxies and gateways – are emerging, however. Still, a crucial aspect of process automation, namely safety, is still being implemented using 4–20 mA. This increases engineering complexity and prevents the advantages of digital communication and intelligent instrumentation from being utilized.

With Ethernet APL, it is possible to integrate every area of the process industry. With an integrated PROFINET network, which includes PROFIsafe (Ethernet APL as  “black channel” in this case), automation of the process industry becomes far easier. Secure communication over the black channel is ensured without the need for any additional security measures.

PROFINET also allows the coexistence of other protocols on the network, for example, for remote diagnostics and configuration via a web server or the use of additional tools on the same network without their having to be designed explicitly for PROFINET. This not only makes engineering easier but results in a host of advantages in the operation and maintenance of future-oriented process industry plants.

The final certification measures are currently still underway, and all work on Ethernet APL will be complete by Spring 2022. PI’s work won’t stop there, though, as it will continue to support process automation on its path to the world of digitization. Our role here will be to reduce complexity, simplify information models, and overcome new challenges posed by Industry 4.0 regarding security and cloud connections, for example.

Jörg Häniche
Head of APL Steering Committee
Member of PI Board