Ethernet for the Process Industry


Today’s process industries share many challenges with hybrid and discrete industries, such as increasing global competition. While users are looking to latest automation technologies to help address challenges, it can be more difficult for plants in process industries to adopt and benefit from many advances, such as industrial Ethernet and IP technologies.



With an aging installed base of process automation systems and the need for additional capacity to meet consumer demand in emerging economies, the previous norms are about to change. It is projected that the process industries will invest over 100 billion US dollars globally in new control systems for process automation, split equally between modernization and new installations. As a result, many users in process industries will be looking to develop new strategies for maintaining cost-effective, sustainable production capacity. To achieve all of the business results needed, these strategies must take into account the efficient integration of the plant’s network infrastructure into the existing business applications.

Moreover, these strategies call for a network architecture that provides the best integration, not only within the process plant but also with external systems. Unfortunately, the diverse and often complex nature of field devices in process plants has made integration complicated because users have needed to deploy a range of specialty process fieldbuses in the network architecture. This fact, combined with the often extreme nature of applications in process industries – extreme plant size, hazardous areas, climate, environmental hazards, or remoteness – have made it difficult for users to realize all the benefits possible from process integration. However, standard Ethernet and IP technologies – already proven in hybrid and discrete industries – stand to change this situation for the process industries.

Convergent, Compatible and Scalable OPI

ODVA envisions an approach to the optimization of process integration (OPI™) that will be convergent, compatible, scalable and open for users and their suppliers. The approach will simplify exchange of configuration, diagnostic and production data between field devices and higher-level systems such as supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA). In addition, plant asset management (PAM) and secure remote access of field installations will be enabled and plant-to-enterprise communication simplified. This, together with the proven benefits and cost advantages of commercially available, off-the-shelf Ethernet and Internet technologies will help businesses improve productivity and competitiveness.

ODVA has a broad overall approach to OPI based on the three principle domains of the industrial ecosystem – production, enterprise and power grid. The focal point of OPI is the production domain and the process plant. This approach is characterized by the need for the integration of field and functional safety devices with the control systems, along with the business value of providing process information from the field to enterprise systems. The foundation of OPI is an interoperability framework achieved through a unified communication system using standard Ethernet and Internet technologies. This framework also covers other requirements particularly relevant to applications in the process industries such as intrinsic safety and configuration of field devices with a large number of parameters.

ODVA’s plan for OPI leverages its core competency in information and communication technologies. These are grounded in ODVA’s media-independent Common Industrial Protocol (CIP™) and in EtherNet/IP™, its network technology which is based on standard, unmodified Ethernet and Internet technologies. For OPI between field devices and industrial control systems or ICS, often referred to as DCS or PAC, ODVA seeks to include objects, services and device profiles in EtherNet/IP that are optimized for applications in the process industries and permit the transparent and seamless exchange of production, logistics, configuration and diagnostic information. In the long term, ODVA envisions physical layer implementations that allow for the integration of devices on Ethernet that are intrinsically safe and network-powered.

The production domain in process plants – where the tight integration of field devices with industrial control systems is required – is the focal point of OPI. Although integration of field devices is essential, plant engineers have not been provided with standard ways to facilitate this integration. Originally, process plants relied on 4-20 mA analogue signals for transmitting process values to and from field devices. More recently, these analogue signals have been often replaced with digital communication technologies in the form of specialized process automation fieldbuses. However, these fieldbuses traditionally require specialist training, knowledge and tools to integrate with higher-level networks and, in many cases, have not been designed for the transmission of large amounts of data available from today’s instrumentation. Remote access is also complicated, requiring additional hardware in the form of gateways to allow remote access connections to the plant and its field devices, industrial control systems, and interrelated systems using IP-based technologies.




An Evolved Approach to OPI

ODVA, with its expertise in standard information and communication technologies for industrial automation, combined with its large community of device vendors, who make and sell EtherNet/IP-compliant products for industrial automation, can provide the process industries with an evolved approach to OPI that is:

Convergent in its long term approach to support the deployment of standard Ethernet and Internet technologies in the process industries across all domains of the industrial ecosystem;
Compatible by enabling users to integrate new devices and systems with their installed base while evolving their automation architecture to complement the architecture for supervisory and enterprise systems;

Scalable from simple field devices to complex systems of automation equipment in the enterprise environment; and
Open by virtue of its use of multi-vendor, interoperable standards managed by an independent, vendor-neutral organization.

Despite wider acceptance and use of Ethernet and IP technologies in process automation, there are still gaps between the field, control and enterprise levels. Plus, different control systems favour different fieldbuses. OPI will ease this situation by providing users with a unified communication solution that includes the information and communication standards for the objects, services and profiles needed.

Learn more about ODVA’s vision for the Optimization of Process Integration by downloading the full vision white paper and connecting with ODVA for updates on technical releases. To learn more about ODVA’s technical work on OPI, visit

About ODVA

Founded in 1995, ODVA is a global association whose members comprise the world’s leading automation companies. ODVA’s mission is to advance open, interoperable information and communication technologies in industrial automation. ODVA recognizes its media independent network protocol, the Common Industrial Protocol or “CIP” –
and the network adaptations of CIP – EtherNet/IP, DeviceNet, CompoNet and ControlNet – as its core technology and the primary common interest of its membership. ODVA’s vision is to contribute to the sustainability and prosperity of the global community by transforming the model for information and communication technology in the industrial ecosystem. For future interoperability of production systems and the integration of the production systems with other systems, ODVA embraces the adoption of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) and standard, unmodified Internet and Ethernet technologies as a guiding principle wherever possible. This principle is exemplified by EtherNet/IP – the world’s number one industrial Ethernet network. For more information about ODVA, visit