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Ethernet I/O Description and Explanation
Ethernet I/O is a term that means many things in different industries. In typical usage in the data acquisition and control industry it is typically used to refer to a system in which analog and/or digital inputs and outputs are connected to a host computer via some type of Ethernet link. The host computer then accepts data from the inputs and sends out data which controls the outputs.
As opposed to plug-in board based input and output systems, Ethernet I/O is easily located some distance from the host computer. This allows an Ethernet I/O system to be installed closer to the actual signals being monitored and the actuators being controlled. Keeping the measurement and control system close to the actual signal sources is beneficial for a variety of reasons. A variety of these are shown below:
- The length of wire between the signals and the actual A/D and D/A converters is minimized, which reduces the noise picked up in the field wiring.
- The number of (long) signal wires which must be run between the controlling computer and the I/O system may be reduced to a single CAT-5 cable. This dramatically reduces both the time to install and the cost of installing an I/O system.
- Ground loop issues may be reduced as the I/O system's location near the actual I/O reduces the likelihood or large ground potential differences between the signal sources and the measurement and control unit.
- Replacing long signal wires with a single CAT-5 cable increases system reliability, especially in applications where the device under test or control is subject to high vibration or physically moves relative to the host computer (e.g. full motion simulators).
Ethernet I/O is also frequently called Distributed I/O or networked I/O, though the "distributed" designation could also apply to DAQ systems which are connected to the host computer via other methods including Serial, Wireless, CAN or other communications links. These remote data acquisition and control systems are becoming more and more common in industrial control systems and applications where the input/output systems are used for high end analog measurements in conjunction with programmable controllers. Ethernet I/O systems are also becoming very popular in the Test and Measurement and Instrumentation arenas which have previously been dominated by the GPIB interface. In fact, a new consortium called the LXI Consortium has been founded to help promote the adoption of the Ethernet interfaces in test and measurement applications.
All in all, though it has taken a long time for Ethernet I/O systems to take a significant percentage of the overall DAQ market, products like UEI's PowerDNA Cube are now leading the way to make these systems one of the most popular configurations in the data acquisition and control market today.