Lonworks - An Introduction

Mark Lockareff | Echelon

Lonworks - An Introduction
Submitted by Mark Lockareff
Director, Business Development and Home/Utility Marketing, Echelon
Email / URL

LonWorks is a complete, open, off-the-shelf networking technology platform for designing and implementing interoperable control networks. Today, over 2,500 companies worldwide are incorporating LonWorks networks into products used in a wide variety of environments, including commercial buildings, factories, vehicles, machines, mass transportation systems, homes and utilities. Because of its proven reliability, open availability and low costs, manufacturers and end users are increasingly turning to LonWorks standard for control networking solutions.

A wide variety of companies including Echelon provide a full range of hardware and software products to support the development, installation, and management of LonWorks-based home control networks. The availability of these products make it simple, inexpensive and quick to implement interoperable, control networking solutions (see Echelon's Web site http://www.echelon.com for a full listing of products).

In addition, an independent industry group, called the LonMark Interoperability Association, controls the open standard which ensures that products from different suppliers "plug and play" and can be easily linked into multi-vendor systems. The LonMark Interoperability Association was formed in May 1994 and has over 150 members. The mission of the Association is to facilitate the development and implementation of open interoperable LonWorks control products and systems. The Association provides an open forum for member companies to work together on marketing and technical programs to advance the LonMark standard for interoperability. LonMark membership is open to all manufacturers, end-users, system integrators, equipment specifiers and individuals. Association membership fees are used toward promotional activities such as demonstrations, tradeshows, literature, and advertising.

LonWorks networks is becoming the dominant standard for home networking around the world. One of the key drivers making this happen is energy management. Today, over 25 utilities located throughout the US and around the world are pursuing projects using products based on LonWorks networks. In addition, there are numerous OEM manufacturers and systems integrators that have announced LonWorks-based products and services for the utility industry. The projects represent a wide range of utility applications (e.g. DSM, meter reading, home automation, distribution automation, substation automation and generation plant control) and address all types of utility customers (e.g. residential, commercial and industrial). A key strength of LonWorks networks is its acceptance across all areas of a utility’s control networking needs.

While many utilities wish to keep their activities confidential at present, the following 15 utilities have announced projects using LonWorks networks:
Central and South West
Detroit Edison
Duke Power
Florida Power
Southern California Edison
The Southern Company
Wisconsin Electric
Wisconsin Public Service
Amsterdam Energy
Eastern Electric (United Kingdom)
China Electric Power
Mosenergo (Russia)
Scottish Hydro (United Kingdom)
Sydkraft (Sweden)

In addition, over 100 companies have announced products that apply to the utility industry. (see Echelon's web site http://www.echelon.com for a full listing of products).

What is LonWorks?

LonWorks control networking technology makes distributed control systems affordable and easy to implement. As an off-the-shelf family of tools, ICs, modules, and software, LonWorks provides the tools and building blocks needed to build intelligent, interoperable nodes, sub-systems and systems, and to install and maintain them. LonWorks provides an open platform. The tools, modules, and ICs are readily available from multiple suppliers, and can be further supplemented by third parties as needed. They are deployed in a wide range of applications.

Each LonWorks node includes local computational and networking resources and can also attach to local input/output (I/O) devices. The I/O resources allow it to process input data from sensors or output data to actuators. The computational resources allow it to process the data for signal conditioning or as a part of the control loop. The networking resources allow it to interact with other nodes on the network to complete the control loop. Several choices of standard media - from twisted pair cable to power line and others - are supported. Custom media choices can also be supported. Different media can be used in various parts of the same network, and are connected using routers.

The networking resources include the LonTalk protocol which is implemented in firmware. The LonTalk protocol is a complete 7-layer communications protocol that supports highly reliable communications for control applications. The LonTalk protocol is available to anyone at no charge and can be ported to an OEM's host processor of choice. One implementation, the Neuron Chip, is a sophisticated VLSI device dedicated to LonWorks technology and manufactured and distributed worldwide by Motorola and Toshiba. The Neuron Chip incorporates communications, control, scheduling, and I/O support. The Neuron Chip provides a consistent, interoperable implementation of the LonTalk protocol, plus it provides the best gold standard for testing other implementations of the LonTalk protocol. These two aspects of the LonTalk protocol (portability and reference implementation) deliver the highest degree of interoperability across platforms.

LonWorks technology offers many benefits, including:
Reduced wiring and installation costs via use of shared wired and wireless media
Better system response by elimination of communications bottlenecks
Better reliability by elimination of central points of failure
Simplified product development and integration through a comprehensive system architecture supported by complete development tools
Easy system installation, maintenance, diagnostics and repair through thorough architectural support for these needs, and a comprehensive, compatible set of standard toolkits

LonWorks is an open architecture. Transceivers, network management tools, network monitoring and control tools, host applications, and other products that make up the building blocks of a LonWorks node or system, are available from multiple suppliers. Custom versions can also be implemented where needed.

Echelon supplies a full range of the above building blocks for OEMs building LonWorks based products. These can be broadly classified as:
LonWorks Transceivers
LonWorks Control Modules
LonWorks Network Interface Products
LonWorks Routers
LonManager Network Services Products
LonBuilder Development Tools

Of particular importance to utility applications is Echelon's family of power line transceivers. Use of power line communications is essential to meeting installation cost targets, and the reliability of these communications will have a major impact on the overall success of a utility's application. Echelon's offering in this area, the PLT-21 power line transceiver, has been demonstrated to be the most reliable power line communication device available in the world today, and will be essential to achieving market success.

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