Ethernet is being speedily adopted by manufacturing industries as the prime medium for communication due to a vast number of reasons. Ethernet networks offer the greatest efficiency, flexibility and reliability capabilities to a network engineer, making it ideal for an industry that requires all three of these qualities. The increasing trend towards Industrial Automation has only increased the demand for robust ethernet networks as the entire concept relies heavily on error-free, reliable communication.
Ethernet has become the prominent network for all kinds of on-site communication, whether it’s between I/O devices or servers. Wireless only comes into play at critical locations, leaving ethernet as the number one priority for manufacturers. From an industrial standpoint, seamless convergence of data is necessary for proper day-to-day operations and to maintain the reliability of the system. Manufacturing plants make use of large variety and quantity of networking equipment like switches, cables and routers. Making sure all these are kept in an assorted manner is a challenge for any control or network engineer.
The following are a few tips that can greatly improve an ethernet network’s workings and increase its efficiency, flexibility and reliability.
From the very beginning, the manufacturing and enterprise units of a company have been in clash, continuing to use their own independent networks with unique topologies. For instance, one network may run on ProfiNET while another runs on ControlNET, while a third one runs on an entire separate protocol. This makes linking the units/machines/assets a lengthy and inefficient task, making them vulnerable to downtimes and security issues. In addition, the use of separate staff to control their own respective network only adds to the overall running cost and makes the entire structure even more complex. This makes data sharing nothing short of a mess, and in a nutshell, creates more problems than it solves.
In order to increase plant’s efficiency, (which relies on data from both manufacturing and enterprise divisions) a more centralized, interoperable control is required, with each sub-network operating on pre-defined protocols. This would make the system less susceptible to crashes and make the exchange of information smoother and faster.
One can’t simply install switches, routers and cables and connect them in any manner possible! Similarly, commercial or residential topologies that are overly simple for an industry can’t be followed when dealing with multi-layered systems. On an industrial scale, the manufacturer and enterprise divisions need to perform coherent communication.
Devising a methodology based on standard topologies would maintain the real-time status of a network, as well as its performance. A Zone Cabling Architecture needs to be followed for all plant networks allowing the systems to converge within a common pathway and then terminate within the zone. In addition, using a zone cabling architecture allows isolation of Virtual LAN networks from each other, making sure high-priority process control traffic never gets effected by peripheral control traffic.
Electromagnetic interference is a rising problem with ethernet networks as they continue to take over industrial floors. With today’s data requirements and the constant need for real-time information, there is a necessity to have a quality data cable that is able to survive all industrial elements. Each cable’s specifications should be carefully examined, and so should the need for shielding it. A network engineer should be even more vigilant while connecting industrial assets as network cables face the most danger from power lines.
Cabling an industrial ethernet requires both skill & intuition. Most of the problems that are associate with the below-par performance of network is due to substandard cabling.
Two most common cabling problems:
- lack of defiance in the face of harsh conditions
- bad performance when it comes to interference
Both these problems can be resolved quite easily if the design stage is carefully carried out. IEC-11801 is the way to go, as it specifies optimal performance expectations from the cables of an ethernet network. A network that’s formed based on these requirements will not only be reliable, secure & robust but will also have the capability to be troubleshooted at a moment’s notice, in case of any issue.
Here are a few simple rules to keep in mind the next time you’re up designing a network:
- Plan for scalable bandwidth.
- Explore heavy-duty cables & switches.
- Expect integration of other mediums, i.e. wireless.
- Set-up an upgrade schedule.
- Have a strategy for both physical and cyber security in place.
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