Automation in Real Time


Real-time automation with EtherCAT for Windows

EtherCAT is one of the fastest and most popular industrial Ethernet protocols for PC-based automation. Here are some of the main reasons:

  • Automation in real time
  • Short cycle times at high data rates
  • High-performance I/O system with extremely fast reaction times
  • Flexible topologies as well as their combinations: Line, Tree, Ring, Star, Bus, etc.
  • Fast data transfer (PDO/SDO)
  • Efficient real-time Ethernet, highly suitable for machine and plant automation

The EtherCAT Master is part of Kithara RealTime Suite and acts as a highly efficient function library to implement complex automation tasks. Its easy usability allows for low development effort and high flexibility, extending EtherCAT with the following real-time functions:

  • Achieves "hard" real-time capabilities due to accurate and high-frequency real-time timers
  • Cycle times of down to 50 µs
  • Reaction times of I/O data processing in the microsecond range
  • Automatic detection of the present EtherCAT topology
  • Fast process data and service data communication (PDO/SDO)
  • Mailbox communication as well as "CANopen over EtherCAT" (CoE)
  • Extendable with a variety of additional protocols and functions: FoE, SoE, EoE, FSoE, etc.
  • EtherCAT Automation Protocol: Plant-wide real-time networking at command level with up to 100 Gbit/s
  • Supports PCs as EtherCAT slaves
EtherCAT: Structure schematic

With the increasing trend towards industrial Ethernet systems, EtherCAT has emerged as one of the fastest and most adaptable Ethernet field busses in the industry. The EtherCAT Master has been specifically develeped by Kithara as an industrial Ethernet control solution for Windows, allowing for reaction times in the microsecond range and data transfer rates of up to 100 Mbit/s in order to implement efficient I/O systems. All EtherCAT topologies are automatically detected and integrated. Furthermore, all familiar EtherCAT features are fully supported such as process data and service data exchange (PDO/SDO), mailbox communication as well as CoE (CANopen over EtherCAT).

The EtherCAT Master has been developed as an open function library and thus enables the seamless integration of devices into the automation process. In contrast to other EtherCAT alternatives, this allows for much more flexible and cost-efficient solutions that are also significantly easier to implement. Additionally, the EtherCAT Master can be extended with all known EtherCAT function and protocols: FoE, SoE, EoE, FSoE, hotplug-capability as well as cable redundancy. Finally, the EtherCAT Master supports PCI slave cards as well as the EtherCAT Automation Protocol for complete plant networking with up to 100 Gbit/s.


Real-time automation with CANopen for Windows

CANopen can also be utilized for real-time automation tasks, due to support for CAN within Kithara RealTime Suite and by employing suitable CAN hardware. The CANopen Master features process data and service data communication, automatic topology determination as well as slave state management. Furthermore, this master can be integrated into higher-level EtherCAT topologies.

Automation in real time


For real-time automation, the modular system of Kithara RealTime Suite provides the following components:

EtherCAT Module

EtherCAT Master in real-time

  • Common
  • Features
  • Extensions

Kithara EtherCAT Master is internally based on a priority-based, preemptive real-time multi-tasking system. Through utilization of hardware parallelism with multiple CPU cores, it is possible to disseminate several real-time tasks to CPU cores. Thus, a high scalability of real-time processing up to extreme real time on exclusively used CPU cores in dedicated mode is possible.

Maximum of 64 EtherCAT slaves, above requires EtherCAT Slave Extension.

  • Independent EtherCAT Master
  • Automatic identification of EtherCAT topologies with XML files
  • Process data communication (cyclic I/O data exchange) in real-time
  • Short cycle time: down to 50 microseconds or less
  • Hot connect and cable redundancy
  • Network interface from RealTek and Intel are supported
  • I/O terminals, servo inverter etc. of every manufacturers are supported (e. g. Beckhoff)
  • Modular structure of EtherCAT Masters: basis module + options
  • Process data communication (PDO)
  • Service date communication (SDO)
  • Mailbox communication
  • Requires Network Module

EtherCAT Slave Extension

Extension for using additonal EtherCAT slaves

  • Extended Level: up to 256
  • Unlimited Level (requires Extended Level): unlimited

EtherCAT PC Slave Device Extension

With the EtherCAT PC Slave Device Extension, regular PCs can be utilized as EtherCAT slaves. What previously was only achievable with specialized hardware, can now also be implemented by using simple commercial PCs as slaves within EtherCAT networks. Prior to the introduction of PCIe slave cards, only the master side was able to execute complex PC-based communication with the EtherCAT network. With the implementation of PC slaves, sophisticated automation processes can be conceptualized, integrated and adjusted with better focus.

  • Common API with EtherCAT Master and EtherCAT EAP
  • Process data and service data communication (PDO/SDO)
  • File transfer (FoE)
  • Creation of custom PDO mappings
  • SII (EEprom) data can be initialized to custom values (e.g. Vendor ID, Product ID, Revision)

Supported Hardware

Beckhoff – EtherCAT Slave devices

  • FC1100, PCI EtherCAT Slave Card
  • FC1121, PCIe EtherCAT Slave Card
  • CX5000 CCAT(Beckhoff CX50xx, CX20xx, CX51xx Embedded PCs)

ESD – EtherCAT Slave card

  • ECS-PCIe 1100, PCIe EtherCAT Slave Card
  • ECS-PCIe/FPGA, PCIe EtherCAT Slave Card

Distributed Clocks (DC)

Distributed Clocks is used for software-based time synchronization between all bus devices. During initialization, the master determines delays to individual slaves and sets their clocks accordingly. For drift correction, a message is regularly sent to all slaves via the ring topology in order to synchronize them precisely over the long term.

Ethernet over EtherCAT (EoE)

With Ethernet over EtherCAT, any Ethernet device can be connected within EtherCAT via switch ports. Standard Ethernet communication is tunneled through EtherCAT, which enables the master to optimize it without affecting process data communication. Some slaves also provide a web interface, e. g. for configuration, which can be accessed via EoE.

File access over EtherCAT (FoE)

File access over EtherCAT allows for simple file access to network devices and can be used, for example, to upload uniform firmware to several devices in the EtherCAT network. The protocol is deliberately kept simple in order to also support bootloaders.

Servo Profile over EtherCAT (SoE)

The Servodrive Profile over EtherCAT provides support for the Sercos interface, which can be used to implement sophisticated motion control applications. The Sercos profile for servo drives and its mapping to EtherCAT are standardized in IEC 61800-7.

Hot Connect (HC)

Hot Connect allows preconfigured segments (slave groups or individual slaves) to be removed from or added to the data traffic before or during operation. This allows for flexible adjustments to the topology.

Cable Redundancy (CR)

With the cable redundancy functionality, operation continues even in the event of unintentional communication interruptions such as broken wires. For this purpose, the process data is sent redundantly via a second Ethernet port through the topology.

Safety over EtherCAT (FSoE)

The TÜV-certified Safety over EtherCAT protocol enables the functionality of EtherCAT to be implemented with safety level SIL 3 (in accordance with IEC 61508). The safety protocol does not cause any restrictions in terms of transfer speed or cycle time, since EtherCAT is used as a single-channel communication medium.


This list always refers to the latest version of our software.

EtherCAT Automation Protocol

Real-time communication over EtherCAT from the command level

  • Common
  • Features

The EtherCAT Automation Protocol allows for real-time comm­uni­ca­tion between all terminals within a network, which achieves a whole new level of connectivity in the field of automation systems. This can be all PC-based controls, machines, testing rigs, conveyor belts, robots, facilities for quality assurance or MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems).

  • Transfer rate of e. g. 1000 Mbit/s, 10 Gbit/s or 200 Gbit/s
  • Process data and service data exchange (PDO/SDO), file transfer
  • Application compatible with Kithara EtherCAT Master

CANopen Module

CANopen Master in real time

  • Common
  • Features

The CANopen Module of Kithara RealTime Suite includes a PC-based master for the automation protocol CANopen®. It is based on the CAN Module and requires supported hardware.

  • Automatic determination of CANopen topologies
  • Management of CANopen slave states
  • Process data and service data communication (PDO+SDO)
  • Mailbox communication
  • Requires CAN Module

Your Benefits of Kithara EtherCAT Master

Kithara EtherCAT Master is provided as a function library. Function extensions are possible at any time and modular. The developers can simply implement the EtherCAT Master in a quick way into their applications. Thus, programming languages like C, C++, Delphi or C# are directly supported and the developers can work in their ordinary programming environment. This prevents a time-consuming initial training as it is the case with complex soft SPS systems. Due to the provided function library the developers have a far more flexible option to perfect their application.

EtherCAT® and Safety over EtherCAT® are registered trademarks and patented technologies, licensed by Beckhoff Automation GmbH, Germany.
CANopen® is a registered trademark of the CAN in Automation e. V.
GigE Vision® is a registered trademark of the Automated Imaging Association.
USB3 Vision® is a registered trademark of the Automated Imaging Association.