Martyn Jago
by Martyn Jago
3 min read



EtherCAT Overview

EtherCAT is a real-time communication protocol used for industrial automation applications. It is designed to enable fast and efficient communication between multiple devices in a network, such as sensors, actuators, and controllers.

The basic idea behind EtherCAT is that each device on the network reads the data it needs from the data stream passing through the network, and then adds its own data to the stream before passing it on to the next device. This allows for very fast communication between devices, because there is no need for a centralized controller to manage the data flow.

EtherCAT uses a master-slave architecture, where one device (usually a PLC or a PC) acts as the master, and all other devices on the network act as slaves. The master device is responsible for sending out control messages to the slaves, while the slaves respond with their own data.

One of the key benefits of EtherCAT is its ability to achieve very high communication speeds, with cycle times as low as 12.5 microseconds. This makes it ideal for applications where fast and precise control is required, such as in robotics, motion control, and other types of automation.

EtherCAT is also highly scalable, with the ability to support large numbers of devices in a network. It is based on standard Ethernet technology, which means it can be easily integrated into existing Ethernet networks, and it supports a wide range of communication protocols, including TCP/IP, UDP, and HTTP.

EtherCAT is an open technology that is standardized by the EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG). The ETG is an international association of companies and organizations that collaborate to develop and promote the EtherCAT standard.

The EtherCAT specification and related documentation are freely available to anyone who wishes to use or implement the technology. This openness has helped to drive the adoption of EtherCAT in a wide range of industries and applications.

In addition, there are many third-party vendors that offer EtherCAT-compatible hardware and software, allowing users to easily integrate EtherCAT into their industrial automation systems.

While EtherCAT is an open technology, there are some proprietary aspects to it. For example, some EtherCAT slave devices may use proprietary firmware or hardware that is specific to a particular vendor. However, these proprietary aspects do not affect the overall openness of the EtherCAT standard, and are typically limited to specific implementation details.

Overall, EtherCAT’s open standardization has played a key role in its success as a communication protocol for industrial automation applications. It allows for easy integration with a wide range of devices and systems, and enables interoperability between different vendors’ products.

Overall, EtherCAT is a powerful and flexible communication protocol that has become increasingly popular in industrial automation applications due to its speed, efficiency, and scalability.