PARK RIDGE, Ill. Wind River Systems Inc. (Alameda, Calif.) solidified its position in the industrial marketplace Wednesday (Oct. 31), announcing it will work with Rockwell Automation (Milwaukee) to integrate industrial Ethernet technology into its software offerings.
The agreement lays the foundation for both companies to benefit as the industrial world moves toward Ethernet communications on the factory floor.
Rockwell Automation, an industrial automation giant that does $4.3 billion in annual business, hopes to use the deal as a means of simplifying vendor implementation of real-time operating systems (RTOSes), and therefore lead those vendors to build products that are compatible with its own. At the same time, Wind River aims to use the deal as a means of supplying its VxWorks operating system not only to Rockwell, but also to hundreds of other automation vendors that plan to build Ethernet connectivity into their industrial products.
Because both companies are regarded as leaders in their markets, analysts believe the agreement could help determine the way future automation products are connected to Ethernet networks.
"Like it or not, the 800-pound gorilla usually sets the standard," said Daya Nadamuni, a senior analyst for Gartner Dataquest (San Jose, Calif.).
The key to the agreement is that it builds on Ethernet Industrial Protocol (Ethernet/IP), a mid-layer technology that allows industrial field buses and automation products to connect to an Ethernet network. Ethernet/IP is backed by some of the most powerful companies in the industrial automation community, including Cutler-Hammer, Hitachi, Honeywell, Omron, Rockwell and scores of other companies in the Open DeviceNet Vendors Association (ODVA), an industry consortium.
Under the new agreement, Rockwell will supply its Ethernet/IP protocol stack and r elated interfaces to Wind River, which will build those elements into its Tornado for Industrial Automation development software. The development software is designed to work with the company's VxWorks operating system, currently the embedded industry's most popular commercial RTOS.
By doing that, both companies hope to simplify the vendor process of selecting and implementing an operating system for products that will connect to an Ethernet network.
Currently, companies that build automation products such as controllers, robots and drives often write their own operating systems. Those that implement commercial operating systems must often spend time and effort incorporating protocol and interfaces for Ethernet connectivity.
"By choosing VxWorks and using the Tornado tools, the Ethernet/IP stack comes embedded inside for the vendor," said Doug McEldowney, strategic marketing manager for NetLinx products at Rockwell Automation. "So a big chunk of the work is comple ted for the developer. As a result, the implementation of Ethernet/IP becomes much, much simpler."
"Nobody wants to work on the implementation of Ethernet/IP protocol in their operating systems," added Marc Serughetti, marketing manager for automotive and industrial business units at Wind River (Alameda, Calif.). "They'd rather get it directly from the RTOS supplier."
Indeed, Rockwell Automation already uses the VxWorks operating system in a programmable logic controller (PLC) line known as ControlLogix. There, it serves in an Ethernet module that slides into the backplane of certain PLCs. The company also employs VxWorks in its line of Flex I/O distributed I/O adapters for Ethernet communications.
Such applications are so deeply embedded that most industrial users are seldom aware of their presence. Still, they nevertheless comprise a significant percentage of the industrial RTOS market.
In the next several years, analysts said they expect the need for commercial RTOSes to grow in the indust rial segment, particularly as end users migrate toward Ethernet connectivity. The need for such connectivity has been accentuated in recent years, as manufacturers try harder to track when, where and how their products are built. Ethernet connectivity enables computers on the factory floor to communicate with front-office computers, which can apply enterprise-type software to monitor the creation of products in real-time.
By teaming with Rockwell and incorporating Ethernet protocols in its software, Wind River hopes to make inroads with many of the automation vendors who now write their own operating systems for their products. By most estimates, anywhere from one-half to three-quarters of automation vendors use the "roll-your-own" technique for products ranging from controllers and I/O blocks to operator interfaces and actuator drives.
Wind River could also benefit from its relationship with Rockwell because the incorporation of Ethernet/IP protocols in its software enab les it to forge similar relationships with other companies that want to make their products compatible with Ethernet/IP.
The VxWorks RTOS and Tornado for Industrial Automation tools could also be used by the 360 members of ODVA and hundreds of other companies that make industrial devices, because Wind River's agreement is not exclusively aimed at Rockwell Automation products.
As a result, Wind River could add to its embedded leadership in the industrial sector. The company now accounts for 42 percent of the commercial RTOSes used in that market, according to a study done by ARC Advisory Group (Dedham, Mass.).
"Wind River can now continue in the same vein with Siemens or Schneider Automation or GE Fanuc," said Dick Slansky, senior analyst for the ARC Advisory Group. "Theyve created a wider industrial channel to hook themselves into."
At the same time, Rockwell Automation executives hope that the partnership will help boost popularity of the industrial architecture they back namely, co nnection of industrial products from the DeviceNet field bus to the Ethernet/IP middle layer to an Ethernet network. If that method of connecting to Ethernet grows in popularity, Rockwell is well-positioned to provide automation products for it.
"The key is to make it simpler for the vendor," said McEldowney of Rockwell Automation. "Lots of people will be looking for a way to put Ethernet connectivity in their products, and we saw VxWorks as a way to do that."