EtherCAT was presented for the first time at Hannover Messe 2003 and has since become an established standard in numerous industries worldwide. Meanwhile, the international user and manufacturer association for EtherCAT, the EtherCAT Technology Group, has more than 2,300 members that support and disseminate EtherCAT technology and drive future developments. Martin Rostan, Head of Technology Marketing at Beckhoff, looks back on the early days of the “Fast Lightbus.”
EtherCAT is basically Lightbus technology adapted to Ethernet. Lightbus, the first Beckhoff fieldbus, was launched in 1989 and already derived its then exceptional performance from the “processing on-the-fly” concept that EtherCAT also utilises. The working title of the project, from which EtherCAT later emerged, was “Fast Lightbus.” It is the unique operating principle that also makes EtherCAT so special: fast, flexible, easy to use, cost-effective, compelling, and therefore successful.
The presentation of this pioneering communication technology at Hannover Messe 2003 was a highlight in the company history of Beckhoff: virtually the whole industry visited our booth and was amazed – many even congratulated us. Right from the outset we announced our intention to develop the technology into an open standard. The consistency we showed in following through with our intentions surprised many again. The foundation of the EtherCAT Technology Group and publishing the specification as a global IEC standard were important milestones that Beckhoff is celebrating 10 years later in 2013.
Meanwhile, most competitors in the market have followed our active invitation to implement EtherCAT. EtherCAT slave interfaces are today available on standard microprocessors – for the master any Ethernet port can be used. We continue to be surprised by the diversity of EtherCAT applications: examples include ultra-fast packaging machines, whole steel plants, robots, cutting systems, wind tunnels and wind energy systems – EtherCAT is currently in use across the globe in an unrivalled range of applications. After 10 years EtherCAT is still faster than the fastest CPUs– in a manner of speaking we have been beating Moore’s law for 10 years. And this is why a single version of EtherCAT is sufficient, namely the first one. Everything that has been added since are extensions, not modifications: EtherCAT devices from 2003 and 2013 are therefore still compatible. All of these points are excellent prerequisites for approaching the next 10 years of EtherCAT with strength and confidence.