Hot Connect

Many applications require a change in I/O configuration during operation. Examples are machining centres with changing, sensor-equipped tool systems or transfer systems with intelligent, flexible workpiece carriers, or printing machines in which individual printing units are switched off. The protocol structure of the EtherCAT system takes account of these requirements: the Hot Connect function enables parts of the network to be linked and decoupled or reconfigured “on the fly“, offering flexible response capability for changing configurations.


High availability

Increasing demands in terms of system availability are catered for with optional cable redundancy that enables devices to be changed without having to shut down the network. EtherCAT also supports redundant masters with hot standby functionality. Since the EtherCAT Slave Controllers immediately return the frame automatically if an interruption is encountered, failure of a device does not lead to the complete network being shut down. Dragchain applications, for example, can thus be specifically configured as stubs in order to be prepared for cable break.


Safety over EtherCAT

In the interest of achieving safe data communication with EtherCAT, the Safety over EtherCAT protocol has been created. The protocol meets the requirements of IEC 61508 up to Safety Integrity Level (SIL) 3, as approved by the German Technical Inspection Agency (TÜV).

EtherCAT is used as a single-channel communication system. The transport medium is regarded as a “black channel” and is not included in the safety considerations. Thus, the protocol can also be transmitted by other communication systems, backplanes, WLAN, etc. The transfer cycle can be as short as required without affecting residual error probability. The cyclic exchange of safe data between a Safety over EtherCAT master and a Safety over EtherCAT slave is referred to as a connection that is monitored via a watchdog timer. A master can establish and monitor several connections to different slaves.
Safety over EtherCAT



The diagnostic capability of a network is a crucial factor for availability and commissioning times – and therefore overall costs. Only faults that are detected quickly and accurately and located unambiguously can be rectified quickly. Therefore, special attention was paid to exemplary diagnostic features during the development of EtherCAT.

During commissioning, the actual configuration of the I/O terminals should be checked for consistency with the specified configuration. The topology should also match the configuration. Due to the built-in topology recognition down to the individual terminals, the verification can not only take place during system start-up, automatic reading in of the network is also possible (configuration upload).

Bit faults during the transfer are reliably detected through evaluation of the CRC checksum in each device. Apart from breaking point detection and localisation, the protocol, transfer physics and topology of the EtherCAT system enable individual quality monitoring of each individual transmission segment. The automatic evaluation of the associated error counters enables precise localisation of critical network sections. Gradual or changing sources of error such as EMC influences, defective connectors or cable damage are detected and located.



The EtherCAT technology is not only fully Ethernet-compatible, but also characterised by particular openness “by design“: the protocol tolerates other Ethernet-based services and protocols on the same physical network – usually only with minimum loss of performance. Any Ethernet device can be connected within the EtherCAT segment via a switch port terminal without influencing the cycle time. Devices with fieldbus interface are integrated via EtherCAT fieldbus master terminals. The UDP protocol variant can be implemented on each socket interface. EtherCAT is a fully open protocol. It is recognised and available as an official IEC specification (IEC 61158, type 12).


EtherCAT Technology Group

The EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG) is an association of automation users and manufacturers with a mission to support the development of EtherCAT technology. The group represents a variety of industry sectors and application areas. This ensures that the EtherCAT technology functions and interfaces are ideally prepared for the widest range of applications. The organisation ensures that EtherCAT can be easily and cost-effectively integrated in all kinds of automation devices, while ensuring interoperability of these implementations. The EtherCAT Technology Group is the official IEC partner organisation for fieldbus standardisation. Membership is open to all companies.


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