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CANopen Protocol & Battery Management: Everything You Need to Know

The rising need for effective communication protocols has spurred progress in automotive tech, notably in light electric vehicles (LEVs) and industrial machines. A key player here is CANopen, a protocol pivotal in boosting communication abilities.

This guide delves into CANopen, revealing its role in versatile applications for LEVs and machines. From inception to benefits, we’ll cover key points, offering a comprehensive understanding of this protocol.

Understanding CANopen: A Brief Overview

To understand CANopen, a brief recap of the underlying CAN Bus protocol is essential. The Controller Area Network (CAN) Bus is a message-based communication protocol designed for high-speed, reliable, and deterministic data exchange between microcontrollers and devices in a network.

It enables data transmission without a host computer, allowing seamless communication between various components of a vehicle or machine.

CANopen is an application layer protocol based on the Controller Area Network (CAN) Bus system. It was developed to enable standardized communication between various devices and components within a network, independent of a host computer.

The protocol defines a set of communication and application services that enhance interoperability between diverse systems, making it an ideal choice for complex applications in light electric vehicles and industrial machines.

The Evolution of CANopen


CANopen’s development traces back to the early 1990s, as engineers sought to improve the flexibility and functionality of the CAN Bus protocol.

As the automotive industry witnessed a surge in electronic control systems, the need for a more standardized and robust communication protocol became evident. CANopen emerged as a response to these demands, quickly gaining popularity due to its versatility and scalability.

Key Features and Advantages of CANopen

1. Scalability and Flexibility: One of CANopen’s primary strengths lies in its scalability, accommodating networks with varying sizes and complexities.

Its modular structure allows for easy integration and expansion of additional nodes, making it suitable for applications ranging from simple machines to complex automotive systems.

2. Device Profiles and Object Dictionary: CANopen provides a wide range of standardized device profiles, known as Device Profiles (DPs), catering to various functions like motors, sensors, actuators, and more. These DPs ensure seamless interoperability between different components, contributing to the overall efficiency of light electric vehicles.

the canopen device model

3. Real-time Communication: In the context of light electric vehicles, real-time communication is of utmost importance to ensure prompt and accurate responses between various vehicle components. CANopen’s message-based approach enables real-time data transfer, making it suitable for applications that require timely coordination, such as regenerative braking, battery management, and motor control.

4. Diagnostic and Monitoring Functions: With built-in diagnostic and monitoring functions, CANopen enables efficient fault detection and troubleshooting, minimizing downtime and enhancing system reliability.

5. Comprehensive Data Types: CANopen supports a wide range of data types, including integers, floats, strings, arrays, and more. This versatility allows for efficient representation of various data, making it easier to exchange complex information between nodes in the network.

data types

6. Node Addressing: CANopen employs unique node identifiers, ranging from 1 to 127, which are used for node addressing. This enables targeted communication with specific devices within the network, allowing precise control and coordination.

7. Time-Stamping: CANopen provides the option for time-stamping messages, allowing devices to synchronize their clocks and maintain accurate time references. This feature is especially valuable in applications where precise time measurements are crucial.


8. Heartbeat and Node Guarding: CANopen supports heartbeat and node guarding mechanisms, which ensure the continuous presence and status monitoring of devices in the network. Heartbeat messages indicate that a device is operational, while node guarding detects the absence of expected communications, allowing for rapid detection of device failures.

9. Network Management: CANopen offers various network management services, such as dynamic node addressing, node configuration, and device state monitoring. These services simplify the management and maintenance of the network, especially in applications where devices may be added or removed during operation.

nm canopen

10. PDO (Process Data Object) and SDO (Service Data Object): CANopen defines two primary communication methods: PDO and SDO. PDOs are used for real-time data exchange between devices, enabling rapid and efficient transmission of critical information. SDOs, on the other hand, are used for configuring and accessing device parameters and settings, providing a structured method for remote device configuration.

11. Reduced Wiring Complexity: CANopen’s ability to support multi-device communication on a single bus significantly reduces the wiring complexity in industrial systems. With fewer physical connections required, the installation and maintenance efforts are streamlined, leading to cost savings and improved reliability. This advantage is particularly valuable in applications where space constraints and cable management are critical considerations.

electrical wires


While CANopen offers numerous advantages for communication and coordination in various applications, it also comes with some drawbacks that should be considered when implementing the protocol. Let’s explore some of the key disadvantages of using CANopen:

1. Complexity of Implementation: Implementing CANopen in a system can be a complex task, especially for those with limited experience or knowledge of the protocol. Configuring the object dictionary, setting up PDOs and SDOs, and managing network parameters require careful planning and understanding of the protocol specifications. This complexity may lead to longer development times and increased costs for integration and maintenance.

2. Limited Bandwidth and Data Rate: CANopen operates over the CAN Bus, which has a limited bandwidth and data rate compared to other communication protocols like Ethernet. While CAN Bus is suitable for many applications, it may become a bottleneck for systems requiring high-speed data exchange or large amounts of data. This limitation may restrict the use of CANopen in certain high-performance applications.


3. Lack of Security Features: CANopen lacks robust built-in security features. As an older protocol designed primarily for industrial and automation applications, it does not offer advanced security mechanisms to protect against potential cyber threats or unauthorized access. As industries become more interconnected and face increased security risks, additional security measures may need to be implemented alongside CANopen.

4. Compatibility Issues with Legacy Systems: CANopen’s extensive use of standardized device profiles and object dictionaries is advantageous for interoperability between devices from different manufacturers. However, this may also lead to compatibility issues when integrating with legacy systems that do not fully adhere to the standard. In such cases, additional configuration and adaptation may be necessary to ensure seamless communication.

legacy systems

5. Limited Network Size: While CANopen is scalable to a certain extent, there is a practical limit to the number of nodes that can be connected in a network. As the number of nodes increases, the data traffic and collision probability may rise, potentially impacting real-time communication and overall network performance. In scenarios requiring an extensive number of nodes, alternative communication protocols might be more suitable.

6. Deterministic but Not Guaranteed: CANopen provides deterministic data exchange, ensuring timely delivery of critical messages. However, it is important to note that CANopen does not guarantee message delivery or response times in all scenarios. Network conditions, such as heavy data traffic or bus arbitration conflicts, can lead to occasional delays and affect real-time performance.

7. Limited Distance Range: CAN Bus, the underlying communication system of CANopen, has a limited distance range due to its design for use within small to medium-sized systems. Longer distances between nodes may require additional signal repeaters or other means of signal amplification, potentially adding complexity and cost to the network infrastructure.

CANopen vs. Other Protocols

In the realm of industrial communication and coordination, there are various protocols available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. When comparing CANopen with other communication protocols, it’s essential to consider the specific requirements of the application and the characteristics of each protocol. Let’s explore how CANopen fares against some other widely used protocols:

1. CANopen vs. Modbus:



  • Advantages:
  • Real-time capabilities for time-critical applications.
  • Built-in network management features for easy device integration.
  • Scalable to support networks with hundreds of nodes.
  • Standardized device profiles ensure interoperability between devices from different manufacturers.
  • Disadvantages:
  • Complex implementation and configuration process.
  • Limited bandwidth and data rate compared to some other protocols.
  • Limited distance range, suitable for small to medium-sized systems.
  • May not have advanced security features.


  • Advantages:
  • Simple and easy-to-implement protocol.
  • Widely used in industrial automation and control systems.
  • Supports both serial (Modbus RTU) and Ethernet (Modbus TCP) communication.
  • Suitable for small to medium-sized networks.
  • Disadvantages:
  • Lack of native real-time capabilities.
  • Limited scalability for large-scale systems with numerous nodes.
  • Limited data types and may not be suitable for complex data structures.
  • Not designed for high-speed data exchange.

2. CANopen vs. PROFINET:

canopen vs profinet


  • Advantages:
  • Real-time communication for time-sensitive applications.
  • Flexible and scalable for various network sizes.
  • Supports a wide range of data types and efficient data exchange with PDOs and SDOs.
  • Well-defined device profiles for easy integration.
  • Disadvantages:
  • Requires additional security measures for protecting against cyber threats.
  • Limited bandwidth compared to PROFINET for high data rate applications.
  • Complex implementation may lead to longer development times.


  • Advantages:
  • High-speed data exchange with cycle times down to microseconds.
  • Suitable for large-scale systems with thousands of nodes.
  • Native support for redundancy and network redundancy for increased reliability.
  • Seamless integration with standard Ethernet technology.
  • Disadvantages:
  • Requires advanced hardware and infrastructure for high-speed applications.
  • Higher implementation and setup complexity compared to some other protocols.
  • Limited real-time capabilities compared to CANopen.

3. CANopen vs. EtherCAT:



  • Advantages:
  • Real-time capabilities for time-critical applications.
  • Standardized device profiles for easy device integration.
  • Scalable to support networks with hundreds of nodes.
  • Comprehensive data types and efficient data exchange with PDOs and SDOs.
  • Disadvantages:
  • Limited bandwidth compared to EtherCAT for high-speed applications.
  • Complex implementation and configuration process.
  • Limited distance range, suitable for small to medium-sized systems.


  • Advantages:
  • Extremely high-speed data exchange with cycle times in the microsecond range.
  • Scalable for large-scale systems with thousands of nodes.
  • Highly efficient use of network bandwidth.
  • Low communication jitter and precise synchronization.
  • Disadvantages:
  • Requires specialized hardware for EtherCAT-enabled devices.
  • Complexity in setup and configuration compared to some other protocols.
  • Limited real-time capabilities compared to CANopen.

Implementing CANopen in Light Electric Vehicles

The integration of CANopen in light electric vehicles (LEVs) brings significant advancements in the realm of electric mobility. As the demand for efficient and eco-friendly transportation grows, CANopen plays a crucial role in ensuring seamless communication and coordination among various subsystems in LEVs, resulting in enhanced performance and optimized user experience.

1. Battery Management System (BMS):

The BMS, a vital component in light electric vehicles, relies on CANopen for real-time monitoring and control of the battery pack.

CANopen facilitates communication between individual battery cells and the central control unit, enabling the BMS to manage parameters such as voltage, current, state of charge (SOC), and state of health (SOH). This contributes to battery longevity and optimized vehicle performance.

bms design

2. Motor Control and Drive Systems:

In light electric vehicles, precise motor control is essential for smooth acceleration and efficient energy consumption. CANopen provides an efficient means of communication between motor controllers, inverters, and the central vehicle control unit, enabling synchronized motor operation and enhancing overall efficiency.

3. Electric Brake System:

CANopen also plays a vital role in the electric brake system of light electric vehicles. By enabling real-time communication between brake components and the central control unit, CANopen ensures precise control of braking force and regenerative braking capabilities.

Through CANopen, the brake system can communicate critical information about braking force, vehicle speed, and deceleration to the central controller, allowing for smooth and efficient braking performance. Additionally, regenerative braking data can be utilized to optimize energy recovery and extend the vehicle’s driving range.

bike brake

4. Energy Management and Distribution:

CANopen is employed to facilitate energy optimization, enabling smart grid integration and load balancing.

CANopen-based energy management systems can monitor and regulate power consumption, ensuring that energy-intensive processes are scheduled during off-peak hours. This helps to reduce operational costs and minimize the environmental impact of light electric vehicle charging.

Additionally, CANopen allows for bidirectional communication between the vehicle and the grid, enabling vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities. With V2G, light electric vehicles can not only consume energy but also return excess stored energy back to the grid during peak demand periods, contributing to grid stability and supporting renewable energy integration.

5. Charging Infrastructure:

CANopen’s versatility extends to the charging infrastructure of light electric vehicles. In the context of light electric vehicle charging stations, CANopen facilitates plug-and-play capabilities, enabling seamless communication between the vehicle and the charging station.

CANopen-based charging systems exchange essential data about charging status, voltage, and current between the vehicle and the charging station, ensuring safe and efficient charging. This feature enhances user convenience and promotes the widespread adoption of light electric vehicles.

ebike charging station

Implementing of CANopen in Industrial Machines and Automation

The implementation of CANopen in industrial machines revolutionizes the way these machines communicate, coordinate, and operate. By leveraging the unique features and advantages of CANopen, industrial automation becomes more efficient, reliable, and flexible.

1. Factory Automation

In the realm of factory automation, where complex production processes require seamless coordination between different machines and subsystems, CANopen proves to be a game-changer. The protocol’s ability to support hundreds of nodes within a network enables the connection of various automation components, such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), motor drives, sensors, and human-machine interfaces (HMIs).

CANopen’s real-time communication capabilities ensure that critical data reaches the right destination at the right time, optimizing the efficiency of manufacturing processes. It enables machines to work in harmony, responding quickly to changing conditions, and ensuring smooth production workflows.

industrial automation main

2. Robotics

Robotics is another area where CANopen shines. In robotic systems, precise and synchronized movement control is paramount. CANopen’s deterministic data exchange ensures that all components of a robotic system, including multiple axes, end-effectors, and sensors, work in perfect synchronization.

With CANopen, complex robotic movements, such as pick-and-place tasks or intricate assembly operations, can be executed with high accuracy and repeatability. The protocol’s support for various data types enables efficient encoding of position, velocity, and torque values, facilitating smooth motion control.

mechanized industry robot and human worker working together in future factory

3. Material Handling Equipment and Conveyor Systems

In material handling equipment like conveyors, forklifts, and automated guided vehicles (AGVs), CANopen plays a vital role in optimizing control and coordination. CANopen-enabled material handling systems can exchange information about the position and status of goods, monitor conveyor speed, and enable synchronized movement between multiple machines.

The seamless communication between material handling equipment streamlines warehouse operations, improves throughput, and enhances safety. AGVs, for example, can navigate through dynamic environments, avoiding obstacles and adapting their paths in real-time through CANopen’s swift data exchange.


4. Building Automation and Control

CANopen is also applied in building automation systems to create smart and energy-efficient buildings. In modern smart buildings, various subsystems like heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), lighting, security, and access control need to work in harmony.

CANopen enables these subsystems to communicate and exchange data seamlessly, allowing for coordinated and automated building control. This results in optimized energy consumption, enhanced comfort for occupants, and efficient management of building resources.


5. Energy Management and Control:

Efficient energy management and control are critical aspects of industrial machines. CANopen is employed to facilitate energy optimization, enabling smart grid integration and load balancing.

CANopen-based energy management systems can monitor and regulate power consumption, ensuring that energy-intensive processes are scheduled during off-peak hours. This helps to reduce operational costs and minimize the environmental impact of industrial operations.


CANopen has proven to be a versatile and effective communication protocol in diverse applications, including light electric vehicles and machines. Its scalability, flexibility, and standardized communication services make it a preferred choice for engineers and developers seeking efficient and reliable network communication.

As technology continues to advance, CANopen is likely to play an increasingly crucial role in shaping the future of automotive systems and industrial automation. With its ability to enable seamless communication and coordination, CANopen remains at the forefront of modern innovation.

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Bluen Lee

Hello, I'm Bluen, I have over 25 years in the battery industry.
Throughout my career, I've developed a deep understanding of the battery market and kept up with the latest trends in R&D.
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