As the development of the technology progresses and the benefits for process industries such as mining become clearer ­– there has been a growing interest in and demand for Ethernet Advanced Physical Layer, or Ethernet-APL for short. An increasing number of users across the globe have been approaching the experts at Pepperl+Fuchs with questions regarding the implementation and advantages of such technology in their processing plants.

The Ethernet-APL Rail Field Switch from FieldConnex. Image credit: Pepperl+Fuchs

The Ethernet-APL Rail Field Switch from FieldConnex. Image credit: Pepperl+Fuchs

  1. Which DCS manufacturers already offer control systems with Ethernet-APL today?

In fact, all of them, without exception, already offer Ethernet-APL. With the FieldConnex rail field switch from Pepperl+Fuchs, the connection right into the field of the plant and thus the continuous communication can be easily realised – up to and including the selection of different protocols.

  1. Which field device manufacturers already provide Ethernet-APL-capable field devices?

 The first manufacturer to immediately announce complete instrumentation with Ethernet-APL for 2022 was Endress+Hauser, and others will follow going forward. In fact, it can be safely assumed that moving into 2023 announcements and presentations from suppliers will cause a lot of movement in the market. 

  1. What benefits will customers receive if they deploy Ethernet-APL, especially comparing to 4-20 mA and HART?

This is the key question: with universal, barrier-free network access to instrumentation at high speed, all the advantages we know from everyday life with Ethernet can be transferred to the requirements of the process industry:

  • better SOPs
  • less maintenance
  • reduced risk of failure and malfunction
  • higher output
  • more efficiency
  1. From which features do these benefits derive?

A field network, in conjunction with PROFINET or Ethernet/IP and appropriate hardware and software, enables applications with fully automated workflows interacting with field instruments. Specifically, this means, for example, that systems can provide the following functions and applications:

  • automatic device detection
  • automatic upload and download of the instrument configuration
  • upload of the right DTM / EDD device drivers 
  1. Are there demo devices? How can I experience the technology live?

The experts from Pepperl+Fuchs will not be able to demonstrate the technology to you in a demo case as usual. The easiest way to implement a test configuration with Ethernet-APL is in your own environment with your control system or controller that you keep on hand for testing. From the company you get a switch and the expert support. You request the field devices from your usual suppliers. You can then start testing immediately with a PROFINET controller and PROFIBUS PA field devices. Before you do this, however, you should set yourself goals. Describe expectations how the functions of a network infrastructure can make your daily work easier and develop respective test scenarios. The NAMUR epics, which describe various use cases, also provide inspiration for this.

  1. How can users protect Ethernet-APL networks against cyberattacks?

Cybersecurity requires a systemic approach. Engineers consider attack scenarios and the network’s vulnerability to protect it from unwanted access and plan for appropriate security measures. Example: On-site maintenance contractors need access to specific areas and only for a limited time—accordingly, access rights are granted on a very limited basis. In principle, Ethernet APL networks are expandable for all protocols.

  1. What is NAMUR Open Architecture? How does Ethernet-APL fit in?

NOA or the NAMUR Open Architecture defines lateral access to secondary information of the field instrumentation, such as configuration, alarms and diagnostics. Lateral means access independent of the control system and in parallel, so that the control system can remain unaffected and highly available in its configuration and thus process control.

Test Ethernet-APL in your process plant environment! Image credit: Pepperl+Fuchs

Test Ethernet-APL in your process plant environment! Image credit: Pepperl+Fuchs

NOA defines appropriate application scenarios for handling the instrumentation, such as:

  • the simple commissioning of the field devices
  • automatic alignment of the plant documentation
  • the simple exchange of instruments or
  • the ability to read out several variables from one device.

For this purpose, NAMUR defines OPC-UA as the preferred protocol, which is transmitted in parallel to the industrial protocol for plant control. Ethernet-APL is the data transmission link and physics that enables this parallel communication directly to the field device.