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Notes regarding ESI device description


Installation of the latest ESI device description

The TwinCAT EtherCAT master/System Manager needs the device description files for the devices to be used in order to generate the configuration in online or offline mode. The device descriptions are contained in the so-called ESI files (EtherCAT Slave Information) in XML format. These files can be requested from the respective manufacturer and are made available for download. An *.xml file may contain several device descriptions.

The ESI files for Beckhoff EtherCAT devices are available on the Beckhoff website.

The ESI files should be stored in the TwinCAT installation directory.

Default settings:

TwinCAT 2: C:\TwinCAT\IO\EtherCAT
TwinCAT 3: C:\TwinCAT\3.1\Config\Io\EtherCAT

The files are read (once) when a new System Manager window is opened, if they have changed since the last time the System Manager window was opened.

A TwinCAT installation includes the set of Beckhoff ESI files that was current at the time when the TwinCAT build was created.

For TwinCAT 2.11/TwinCAT 3 and higher, the ESI directory can be updated from the System Manager, if the programming PC is connected to the Internet; by

TwinCAT 2: Option → “Update EtherCAT Device Descriptions”
TwinCAT 3: TwinCAT → EtherCAT Devices → “Update Device Descriptions (via ETG Website)…”

The TwinCAT ESI Updater is available for this purpose.

The *.xml files are associated with *.xsd files, which describe the structure of the ESI XML files. To update the ESI device descriptions, both file types should therefore be updated.

Device differentiation

EtherCAT devices/slaves are distinguished by four properties, which determine the full device identifier. For example, the device identifier EL2521-0025-1018 consists of:

family key “EL”
name “2521”
type “0025”
and revision “1018”
Identifier structure

The order identifier consisting of name + type (here: EL2521-0010) describes the device function. The revision indicates the technical progress and is managed by Beckhoff. In principle, a device with a higher revision can replace a device with a lower revision, unless specified otherwise, e.g. in the documentation. Each revision has its own ESI description. See further notes.


Online description

If the EtherCAT configuration is created online through scanning of real devices (see section Online setup) and no ESI descriptions are available for a slave (specified by name and revision) that was found, the System Manager asks whether the description stored in the device should be used. In any case, the System Manager needs this information for setting up the cyclic and acyclic communication with the slave correctly.

OnlineDescription information window (TwinCAT 2)

In TwinCAT 3 a similar window appears, which also offers the Web update:

Information window OnlineDescription (TwinCAT 3)

If possible, the Yes is to be rejected and the required ESI is to be requested from the device manufacturer. After installation of the XML/XSD file the configuration process should be repeated.

Changing the ‘usual’ configuration through a scan
If a scan discovers a device that is not yet known to TwinCAT, distinction has to be made between two cases. Taking the example here of the EL2521-0000 in the revision 1019
no ESI is present for the EL2521-0000 device at all, either for the revision 1019 or for an older revision. The ESI must then be requested from the manufacturer (in this case Beckhoff).
an ESI is present for the EL2521-0000 device, but only in an older revision, e.g. 1018 or 1017.
In this case an in-house check should first be performed to determine whether the spare parts stock allows the integration of the increased revision into the configuration at all. A new/higher revision usually also brings along new features. If these are not to be used, work can continue without reservations with the previous revision 1018 in the configuration. This is also stated by the Beckhoff compatibility rule.

Refer in particular to the chapter ‘General notes on the use of Beckhoff EtherCAT IO components’ and for manual configuration to the chapter ‘Offline configuration creation’.

If the OnlineDescription is used regardless, the System Manager reads a copy of the device description from the EEPROM in the EtherCAT slave. In complex slaves the size of the EEPROM may not be sufficient for the complete ESI, in which case the ESI would be incomplete in the configurator. Therefore it’s recommended using an offline ESI file with priority in such a case.

The System Manager creates for online recorded device descriptions a new file “OnlineDescription0000...xml” in its ESI directory, which contains all ESI descriptions that were read online.

File OnlineDescription.xml created by the System Manager

Is a slave desired to be added manually to the configuration at a later stage, online created slaves are indicated by a prepended symbol “>” in the selection list (see Figure “Indication of an online recorded ESI of EL2521 as an example”).

Indication of an online recorded ESI of EL2521 as an example

If such ESI files are used and the manufacturer's files become available later, the file OnlineDescription.xml should be deleted as follows:

close all System Manager windows
restart TwinCAT in Config mode
delete "OnlineDescription0000...xml"
restart TwinCAT System Manager

This file should not be visible after this procedure, if necessary press <F5> to update

OnlineDescription for TwinCAT 3.x
In addition to the file described above "OnlineDescription0000...xml" , a so called EtherCAT cache with new discovered devices is created by TwinCAT 3.x, e.g. under Windows 7:
(Please note the language settings of the OS!)
You have to delete this file, too.

Faulty ESI file

If an ESI file is faulty and the System Manager is unable to read it, the System Manager brings up an information window.

Information window for faulty ESI file (left: TwinCAT 2; right: TwinCAT 3)

Reasons may include:

Structure of the *.xml does not correspond to the associated *.xsd file → check your schematics
Contents cannot be translated into a device description → contact the file manufacturer