PROFINET Implementation Types

We’re going to put PROFINET on our product.  How should we go about it?

Once you’ve figured out what PROFINET features you need to implement on your product, the next question is how to implement those features.  There are four options, three of which are viable:

  • Drop an Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) on your PCB to handle your PROFINET communications.  If you have the real estate available on your PCB for a chip, this might work for you.  The downside is that physical chips are expensive per unit. It’s tough to drive the marginal cost down with volume.  The upside is that ASICs tend to be more fully-featured than other implementation options.  So if you need to implement PROFINET with all the bells and whistles, you have space in your enclosure, and you don’t mind the per-unit cost, this is a great way to go.
  • Plug a module into a slot on your PCB.  Unlike ASICs, modular solutions typically come as a complete network solution, complete with physical cable connectors, magnetics, PHYs, an integrated Ethernet switch, and a chip to handle the PROFINET stack.  There is a range of backplane connections available – everything from dual-port memory to SPI to the CF card interface.  And the great news is that most vendors offer interchangeable protocol implementations that utilize the same backplane connector, so you can offer PROFIBUS, PROFINET, or other protocols with a simple module change.
  • Buy source code and implement your stack on your application processor.  Software stacks are some of the most common implementations that come through the test lab – they’re the cheapest way to implement the protocol in volume.  However, they’re also the most complex way to implement PROFINET.  Stacks touch a lot of pieces of peripheral software, like the operating system, the IP stack, the nonvolatile RAM… the list goes on.  And with each external component you have to interface to the stack, there’s an opportunity to break the protocol.  If you choose to implement a PROFINET stack, investment in training and outside consultation is almost a must.  Otherwise, the certification process in the PI Test Lab can be quite long and fairly expensive.
  • Roll your own stack.  It is another option, but 99% of the time this is NOT a viable option.  The PROFINET protocol is complex. Even after the basic transmit and receive functions are implemented, the integrated diagnostics present yet another level of complexity.  You’ve been warned.

With all of that said, here’s a nifty table to summarize the key differences between the implementation types:

Conformance ClassesA,BA,B,CA,B,C
Netload ClassesI,III,II,IIII,II,III
Ease of IntegrationDifficultEasyModerate
Per Unit CostLowHighModerate
Lifecycle CostModerate--


There’s a management truism that’s been floating around for ages:

You can get it fast, good, or cheap.  Pick two.

This pertains to PROFINET implementations, too.  If you want PROFINET implemented quickly and with a comprehensive feature set, you can drop an ASIC on your PCB.  If you want that same feature set at a lower cost, you have to invest the time to implement a stack.

The good news is that the market for PROFINET implementations is wide open and well-served by a host of technology providers.  For more information on what’s available to meet your needs, check out the PI publication “The Easy Way to PROFINET.”  It’s a great place to get started.