Industrial automation systems use Ethernet application layers technologies like EtherNet/IPTM and Profinet which often have issues related to bandwidth and payload. To overcome these shortcomings, Beckhoff Automation, a German automation company came forward with a Fieldbus system called the Fast Light Bus. This eventually evolved into EtherCAT (Ethernet for Control Automation Technology), which was launched in 2003 by the same company.

EtherCAT works on the basic principle of pass-through reading and combines the benefits of “on the fly processing” and its well-built infrastructure, some of which includes better efficiency and higher speed.

Utthunga’s industry protocol implementation experts understand this new concept of EtherCAT. We integrate the best EtherCAT practices that enhance your hardware and software communication. This in turn, enhances the overall productivity of the automation system.

EtherCAT Features

Beckhoff promoted EtherCAT protocol through the EtherCAT Technology Group or the ETG. It works along with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), which has led to the standardization of EtherCAT over the years.

The EtherCAT standard protocol IEC/PAS6246, which was introduced in 2003, has since then been standardized by IEC to became IEC 61158. One of the main features of EtherCAT is its versatility to work within most of the industrial plant setups. This flexibility allows it to be the fastest Industrial Ethernet technology suitable for both hard and soft real-time requirements in automation technology, in test and measurement and many other applications.

Another feature of EtherCAT is that the EtherCAT master mostly supports various slaves with and without an application controller. This makes the implementation seamless and succesful.

EtherCAT switches are another unique feature of the EtherCAT. Here the switching portfolio refers to all the managed, unmanaged, and configurable switch product lines. An example of the EtherCAT switch is the Fast Track Switching that offers perfect decision-making capabilities even in a mixed communication network under any circumstances. Most of these switches are quite economical to be used in the switch cabinets. They have robust metal housing and support via either VLAN support, IGMP snooping, or other SNMP management features.

EtherCAT Implementation Strategies

To get the best out of the EtherCAT implementation in your industrial plants, you need to have a robust implementation strategy in place. For this matter, we have jotted down the strategies you can use to implement EtherCAT in the following lines:

EtherCAT infrastructure

The EtherCAT infrastructure is quite powerful as it includes various safety and communication protocols and includes multiple profile devices. If we go deep into the architecture, we see that the EtherCAT master uses a standard Ethernet port and network configuration information. The data can be easily fetched from the EtherCAT Network Information file (ENI). The EtherCAT Slave Information files (ESI) that are unique for each device and are provided by the vendor form the basis of these ENI.

If you are working on a load-dependent servo task, the location (Master or Servo Drive) plays a key role in selecting an EtherCAT mode of operation.

EtherCAT Slave & EtherCAT Master devices

EtherCAT slave devices are connected to the master over the Ethernet. Various topologies of EtherCAT can be implemented to connect slaves to the Ethernet Configuration tool. The Ethernet configuration tool is connected to the EtherCAT master via the above mentioned EtherCAT network information file. This configuration tool plays a pivotal role in implementing EtherCAT and connecting the slaves to the master in the right way. The tool generated a network description known as the EtherCAT Network Information file based on the EtherCAT Slave Information files and/or the online information at the EEPROM of the slave devices, including their object dictionaries.

Several EtherCAT slave devices work synchronously with the EtherCAT master devices through various tuning methods. Here the tasks such as setting outputs, reading inputs, copying memory, etc. can be considered, wherein the synchronization between the logical level of the devices plays an imperative role. In order to implement an EtherCAT slave with a master, all you need is an EtherCAT master that works on the lines of a standard Network Interface Controller (NIC, 100 MBit/s Full duplex) protocol. To seamlessly integrate master and slave, a master software with actual run time drives the slaves.

EtherCAT Operation Modes and Network Topology

One of the challenging parts of implementing EtherCAT to your control system is choosing the right operation modes. The reason being, each mode demands differently from the operating system and master. The possible cases of dynamic changes of loads or custom control loop algorithms and the demands of an “on the fly processing system” needs to consider while choosing the operating mode. Here we are going to give you a brief idea of three of the important operating modes that are: CAN over EtherCAT, File over EtherCAT, EtherNet over EtherCAT.

  • CAN over EtherCAT (CoE)

One of the most widely used communication protocols, the CANopen, is used in this mode. It defines specific profiles for different devices. This operating mode ensures a higher speed EtherCAT network.

  • File over EtherCAT (FoE)

This operating mode gives you access to data structure or the information files in the device. This enables the uploading of standardized firmware to devices. This does not depend on whether they support other protocols like TCP/IP.

  • Ethernet over EtherCAT (EoE)

This operating mode allows communication between Windows client applications with an EtherCAT device server program via Ethernet that uses the EtherCAT network. It the simplest way master and slave connect and reduces the overall implementation time.


EtherCAT is one among the many Ethernet based fieldbus protocols but has garnered significant popularity for industrial automation applications. These are optimized for industrial devices like programmable logic controllers (PLCs), I/O, and sensor-level devices. Implementation of EtherCAT offers higher efficiency of the control system, reduction in error, and connect 65,553 nodes in the system with low latency in each slave node.

Utthunga’s services help you to implement EtherCAT in the best possible ways so your industrial automation systems can enjoy the benefits from its versatility to the fullest.