Component quality is key when considering industrial Ethernet

Specialized equipment is key when getting your industrial Ethernet system up and running.

By Max Burkhalter
February 3, 2016

Remember those old "this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs" commercials? On one hand, you had an intact white egg, on the other, a gooey mess of egg white and yolk bubbling on a frying pan with bits of shell scattered in for gory effect. That image works just as well in the Ethernet world if you extend the analogy to "this is a typical Ethernet switch, this is that same switch in an industrial environment."

Factory floors, field service units and similar industrial settings create a variety of environmental conditions that have an adverse impact impact on typical Ethernet hardware. These include:

  • Vibrations: Whether you are dealing with ongoing vibrations caused by machinery or sudden tremors created by heavy objects being moved around, cables, switches and other Ethernet equipment can be jostled and damaged by the movement.
  • Extreme temperatures: Excessive heat can lead to melting in materials surrounding cables, around connection points and within circuitry in routers and switches. Extreme cold can lead to brittleness in equipment, making it much easier for vibrations and similar conditions to damage network infrastructure.
  • Air pollutants: Dust, chemicals, steam and similar pollutants often generated in industrial settings can create major problems for any electronics equipment, ranging from overheating because dust is blocking fans to circuit boards failing because of exposure to moisture.

The factors can take a standard Ethernet router and make it look like the equivalent of a hastily broken egg cast into a frying pan. Connectors can be bent out of position, plastic can melt over ports, transistors can be jostled and left dangling off of circuitry. Ultimately, you're left with hardware that is useless or performs far below what is necessary. This is not an option in industrial settings, and quality is essential if you want to avoid performance problems.

"Quality is essential if you want to avoid performance problems."

Ethernet limitations makes component quality vital in industry
For a long time, industrial organizations depended primarily on serial connections in their automation and control networks. The reason was simple - serial systems provided more reliable, stable and precise data transit to machinery while Ethernet was prone to dropping data packets and experiencing latency. Ethernet has improved enough to be viable in industrial options, but you need the network to perform exactly as specified to take advantage of the technology. Here are some issues that can arise when poor equipment quality leads to damages:

  • Optical power loss: Loose connectors, small damages to cables and similar problems can lead to problems with your optical power budget. Basically, any of these issues can cause small amounts of light to escape the optical fiber, leading to degradation in performance and data quality. The result could be incomplete orders getting to machines or delays in getting critical information to users, leading to poor synchronization on the factory floor. Optical power loss is part of any fiber-based network, but damaged equipment can cause your loss to exceed what is allowable in your budget.
  • Electromagnetic interference: Copper Ethernet cables depend on small amounts of electricity to carry signal through cables. Environmental conditions can cause interference to emerge within cables, causing data transit problems.
  • Equipment failure: A bit of damage to one part of a router or switch can lead to complete failure for the asset. Skimping on equipment quality can, therefore, lead to disastrous consequences in terms of the total cost of ownership when you work to replace damaged hardware.

Any of these issues can come between data and your systems, something that can't be tolerated within an automation and control network, or any other sensitive industrial system. This is why serial connections were prominent in the past and why organizations need specialized industrial Ethernet equipment now. Hardware designed specifically for industrial environments will be rugged enough to handle operating conditions and ensure that your Ethernet systems perform up to specifications when you need them most. Three particularly important equipment types include:

Industrial switches
Industrial Ethernet switches are at the center of your network, providing the core functionality you need to move data from one place to another. They will handle a huge amount of information and effectively serve as the hub of your network. It is absolutely essential that switches are constructed to withstand considerable abuse from industrial environments without sacrificing performance.

Industrial settings can put a major strain on networks.Industrial settings can put a major strain on networks.

Media converters
Fiber-to-Ethernet media converters can help you mix and match copper and fiber systems, something that is particularly valuable in settings like warehouses or large factories, where long cable runs are needed. Again, industrial-class components are essential, as a standard media converter may not be equipped to handle the demands of your environment.

Terminal servers
Using a terminal server system to support serial-to-Ethernet conversion lets you connect legacy automation and control systems that are still valuable to your business to the Ethernet network, allowing them function effectively without having to replace equipment. A hardy terminal server setup can play an instrumental role in simplifying your network.

Quality is the underlying theme in these components. Each can deliver value in its own way, but you must ensure they have the build quality needed to operate in industrial environments or your investments will like go to waste as equipment failure becomes a problem.

Perle has over 516 models of Managed Industrial Ethernet Switches with the vast array of options including 10/100/1000 Ethernet, PoE, fiber and combo ports. Perle IDS Industrial-grade Ethernet Switches are ideal for the harsh environments found in industrial factory systems and outdoor applications.

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