H Network

Industrial Automation Pulse Check: What’s Working & What Needs Work

June 9, 2023
Ethernet and wireless grow, fieldbuses shrink, and an expert explains what this all means for manufacturers

The industrial-network market is expected to grow by 7% in 2023, according to the latest study by HMS Networks, which found that industrial Ethernet still shows the highest growth, and now accounts for 68% of all new installed nodes, compared to 66% last year. Fieldbuses declined to 24%, while wireless grew to a 7% market share.

“Solid industrial-network connectivity is key to achieve the manufacturing uptime, which is needed to reach productivity and sustainability objectives in factory automation,” said Magnus Jansson, product-marketing director of HMS’ Anybus division. “Quality, security, safety and gaining insights through device and machine data are key drivers we see for the continued expansion of industrial networking.”

We wanted to learn more, so we connected with Magnus. Take a look…

Smart Industry: Does the reported growth of the industrial network market surprise you?

Magnus: At HMS, we have a unique insight into the industrial network market, and we closely monitor indicators that tell us both how the overall growth is expected to be, but also how the distribution between different networks will look. The expected 7% growth in 2023 confirms the ongoing digitization of the industry that we have seen for some time, so it does not come as a surprise.

Smart Industry: The study found that industrial Ethernet still shows the highest growth. What does that tell you in the big, digital-transformation picture?

Magnus: It is entirely according to our expectations that industrial Ethernet continues to grow the most. Although the number of new fieldbus nodes are declining, a lot of devices, machines and factories will still be relying on the well-functioning and proven fieldbuses for many years to come. However, Ethernet is a newer technology and offers more capabilities that are demanded by the market today, for example higher bandwidth and transmission rates, ability to integrate with existing IT networks, and much more. Ethernet will continue to grow and replace traditional fieldbus systems eventually.

Smart Industry: Wireless is rapidly growing. What will this enable among manufacturers of the near future?

Magnus: Compared to wired installations, wireless infrastructure offers clear, practical benefits, such as lower costs, improved flexibility, easy access to data and increased uptime. There are many examples, but to give two, improved flexibility and reliability are major advantages of wireless technology in industrial automation.

Traditional wired installations may not be practical for machines that are continuously in motion, such as cranes, turntables and lifts that rely on slip rings and drag chains. These machines may be limited in their mobility or pose a risk of damage to cables due to collisions or entanglements. Additionally, cables and connectors can only take so much abuse before breaking, and when they do break, production grinds to a halt, resulting in lost time and revenue.

Wireless connections offer a reliable solution to these issues, as they do not suffer from wear and tear like cables. By switching to a wireless alternative, companies can avoid unplanned downtime and maintain uninterrupted and flexible production.

Smart Industry: What most surprised you about these findings? What’s most encouraging?

Magnus: I don't see any big surprises, but two things that stand out are firstly that Fieldbus networks are back on a decline from having had temporary growth last year and, secondly, that EtherCAT has continued to show strong growth and is consolidating its place as the third largest industrial Ethernet network.

I find the strong growth in industrial wireless encouraging. Early installations frequently suffered from unreliable connections, leading to misconceptions that wireless technology was unsuitable for industrial use; many of these misconceptions unfortunately persist to this day. However, when implemented correctly, wireless installations can be as reliable as wired installations. By selecting the right products and deploying them in the right application, you can enjoy the benefits of wireless connectivity while ensuring reliable performance in your industrial setting.

I think the rapid growth is an indication that the industry has overcome those misconceptions and has started to see the possibilities of industrial wireless.