Issue: Dec 2005

EtherCAT Drivers for Real-Time Control Systems

by Rob White

KUKA Controls, a leading developer of real-time operating system solutions for Windows XP in conjunction with its partner, Acontis Technologies, have developed AT-ECAT/embedded, a portable EtherCAT master stack for embedded operating systems. In combination with KUKA Controls real-time extensions, CeWin and VxWin, AT-ECAT/embedded enables the use of a standard Windows platform as EtherCAT master in a deterministic EtherCAT fieldbus network. The EtherCAT master stack AT-ECAT/embedded from Acontis has been specially optimized for use in embedded operating systems. The major advantage for users is that the operating systems, VxWorks and Windows CE, will innately support a large number of network cards which can be used with the AT-ECAT/embedded master without modifications or the need for special drivers. The new Acontis EtherCAT master stack further extends KUKA Controls position as a technology leader in the industrial automation market.

AT-ECAT/embedded supports all the protocols defined in the EtherCAT specification, such as cyclic process data communication, mailbox communication, CANOpenOverEtherCAT protocol, and FiletransferOverEtherCAT protocol. Because the AT/ECAT/embedded master is 100% compatible with standard Ethernet hardware, customers can quickly extend their range of EtherCAT products. The implementation of AT-ECAT/embedded makes CeWin or VxWin-based systems the ideal solution for an EtherCAT fieldbus.

The downward scalability of KUKA Controls real-time systems is particularly advantageous when operating a Windows CE or VxWorks control system even on a small embedded system, because these extensions make it possible to add a high-end Windows XP graphical solution on the existing single x86 computer without adding additional hardware. KUKA Controls real-time extensions VxWin 3.1 and CeWin 3.3 allow real-time operating systems, VxWorks and Windows CE respectively, to coexist with Windows XP on a single CPU. Both Windows XP and the RTOS operate with complete - out of the box -functionality, as the extensions do not modify
either OS and no adjustments of any kind are required. Particularly useful is the ability to use all the network cards supported by Windows CE or VxWorks. In contrast to proprietary real-time extensions, these cards can be used without any modification, thanks to the combination of a standard operating system (VxWorks/Windows CE) with Windows XP.

Outstanding performance combined with low costs and broad availability are crucial for the high acceptance of the EtherCAT technology. Solutions such as EtherCAT master AT-ECA/embedded emphasize this: One software base supporting multiple operation systems, no special hardware for the master is needed. This product reveals that EtherCAT helps to realize high-performance scalable systems. (Martin Rostan, Executive Director, EtherCAT Technology Group)

KUKA Controls real-time software extensions are distributed worldwide and are deployed in Aerospace, Automation, Defense, Medical and Test & Measurement applications. The company is a Microsoft Gold Level Windows Embedded Partner (WEP) and a Wind River Platform Partner. These long-term relationships provide smooth integration of the latest OS updates and assure customers of the necessary long-term platform stability. KUKA Controls also certifies third-party hardware compatibility to simplify development of new real-time applications.

About EtherCAT (
EtherCAT puts at the users disposal, a communication technology that matches the superior processing capacity of modern industrial PCs. As a result, 1000 randomly distributed digital I/Os can be polled in 30us, 200 analog values in 50us and 100 axes in 100us. In this period, all the axes are provided with set values and control data, and report their actual position and status. EtherCAT is ideally suited for PC-based control technology. The open technology is supported by EtherCAT Technology Group as well as by an international association of manufacturers and users with over 140 member companies.

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