Bridging Industrial Communication

Bridging Industrial Communication
1973 was the year that Bob Metcalfe first described the network system that he had conceived – making connections of computers to printers technically possible, at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in California. The name Ethernet became known to the world and since then, it has deepened its roots in becoming the de facto protocol that controls the way data transmits in local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs). Within the last few decades, Ethernet has evolved again; this time, finding its way into the industrial world.
A number of Industrial Ethernet protocols had been developed to combine the original benefits of Ethernet, together with useful modifications to ensure lower determinism and latency time. Modbus TCP/IP™, PROFINET™, EtherNet/IP™ and EtherCat™ are some famous protocols that are used in industrial automation applications.
Putting Ethernet through the industrial test
The original Ethernet has been widely used in commercial environments. Industrial Ethernet technology, on the other hand, has to bear the brunt of harsh conditions while still being required to work efficiently, and is used in factories, solar farms, mines and even ocean liners. These environments constantly place tremendous stress on Ethernet cables and its related components, in the form of dust, moisture, climatic changes, electromagnetic interferences, et cetera, which are rarely found in a neat and tidy office space.
Ethernet and the new Buzz
There are a lot of buzzwords that may make Industry 4.0 very fascinating, such as a formation of a phy-gital world and augmented reality. When the focus is on Industrial Ethernet, one should realize that it forms one of the backbones that is driving Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Low latency and determinism add new dimensions and meanings to the provision of real-time information that makes manufacturing, automated production lines, machine self-learning, preventive maintenance and supply chain collaboration all possible. In other words, it is the creation of a smart factory. Recalling the fact that the Ethernet protocol is used for the transmission of data in LANs and WANs, it is conveniently and automatically selected as the common platform connecting between the factory space and the corporate office servers.

This is how the industrial Ethernet switches rose to the challenge to become one of the bridges that enables this important connection.
Industrial Ethernet Transition has been modest, until…
Customers who are currently on Fieldbus technologies are considering transiting to the Ethernet protocol to ready themselves for the possibilities of cloud connections and bring further benefits such as analytics into the picture. An influx of more new nodes created on the Ethernet infrastructure than Fieldbus seems to suggest that the trend is leaning towards Industrial Ethernet1.

An article from Automation World2 is supporting a fact that about half of the connected devices, such as sensors, are on Industrial Ethernet, with the main barrier being cost. Twisted-pair Ethernet cables are perceived to be over the specifications to what most of the sensors require as connections. With the upcoming popularity of the single-pair Ethernet cables, it heightens cost effectiveness and fulfills the customer requirements in the playing field. The push for more instrumentation connectivity continues to be strong.
The recent corona virus, or COVID-19 pandemic, has got a lot of companies thinking about how their manufacturing capabilities can continue with little to no disruption, or even with no human intervention needed. In the Isolation Economy, a term coined by the Forbes Magazine, people will travel less for essential activities and can be just as effective working remotely from the offices. Processes and infrastructure changes, aiming more at remote access and monitoring, are definitely critical areas to explore. Industrial communication and connectivity will then evolve to become a must-have.

The strong drive will continue with more end-users embarking on the usage of Industrial Ethernet, for which the switches are already available in the market, and are more than capable to support the connections. Simple to implement and highly scalable, they will make reliable devices and sturdy bridges for many years to come.
Deciding between Unmanaged and Managed Switches
LAPP offers a good selection of industrial Ethernet switches. The unmanaged versions are plug-and-play devices that keep the basic functions, while coming with additional benefits such as redundant power input and broadcast storm protection. The managed switches are more advanced than the unmanaged ones and have a wider array of features, such as simple setup of redundant network topologies with a reconfiguration time of less than 20 milliseconds, and the ability to support a number of different protocols such as HTTP, Telnet, Ethernet/IP, Modbus/TCP and IPv6.
How should a suitable switch be chosen for a particular application?
There are several factors that can determine the selection, for which the following questions may be considered.
Is it security-critical?

If there is sensitive data that is being transmitted within a network, then managed switches are the recommended choice. Network segmentation and security are possible with managed switches; these can limit network access to either other trusted devices, or pre-authorized end-users in an organization.

The ETHERLINE® ACCESS NF04T NAT/Firewall switch may also be incorporated into the solution. While this product has a combined function of a router and a switch, a built-in configurable firewall is present in all the operating modes. This helps it become one of the security barriers to fend off hacker attacks on IT and production facilities.

Can downtime be accepted in normal operations?
In industrial sectors such as automotive, food & beverage and oil & gas, where interruptions in the connection causing downtime may mean millions of dollars of loss to the companies, managed switches should be the right choice. This is because built-in redundancy topology provides the reliability against downtime, and all other devices on the same network can remain connected and functional even if any device or physical link fails. Managed switches intelligently manage the data traffic to ensure that priority information gets through. Time-sensitive data such as VOIP network traffic can be set on higher priority using the Quality of Service (QoS) feature, for instance.
Are remote monitoring and access required?
Managed switches have features such as priority SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) that allow users to troubleshoot networks remotely. Updates on network statuses may also be provided and potential problems may be known in advance. All of these reduce the pressure of facilities requiring an occasional 24 hours / 7 days on-site staff monitoring of the networks.
Do you need help in selecting Industrial Ethernet switches for your requirements?
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For the best-in-class industrial Ethernet switches, and to find out more of what LAPP has to offer, see below.
Industrial Unmanaged Ethernet switches
Industrial Managed Ethernet switches
Industrial NAT router with firewall feature
Industrial Unmanaged Ethernet switches in slim, compact design
Industrial PROFINET® switches in slim, compact design