Industrial Internet - Are You ready?

Industrial Internet

Almost as soon as computer technology was introduced into the workplace, computer systems began to diverge. On the manufacturing side, proprietary systems were used to monitor and control a wide array of manufacturing operations. Typically, these were standalone systems that didn't share data or computing resources with the rest of the enterprise.

On the business operations side, computer systems evolved more efficiently, particularly once Ethernet was introduced in 1980s. Business networks could easily share data, servers and cabling infrastructure with other users.

During this evolution, many installation contractors focused their attention on installing networks for the business side of the enterprise. They were inclined to leave the installation of factory equipment to equipment vendors, engineers and contractors who specialized in industrial systems.

New contractor market

This article will explain how there has been a growing acceptance of Ethernet in the factory environment, where it is being used to replace standalone computer systems, or at least network them together in new and useful ways. This development presents new opportunities for network installers who now find themselves in familiar territory. Contractors who know how to install business networks already have much of the knowledge required to extend Ethernet to the factory side of the enterprise. To avoid confusion, it should be noted that the terms "Industrial Ethernet" and "Industrial Internet" are often used interchangeably. That's because Ethernet is based on an Internet Protocol (IP) set of standards. This common platform enables companies to easily share data with divisions and affiliates anywhere in the world. The Industrial Internet also allows for remote monitoring and control of industrial equipment. "Industrial Ethernet" can also refer to hardened switches, connectors and other industrial-grade components that are more robust than standard components. For example, standard Ethernet switches are designed to work in room temperatures of approx. 50 degrees to 95 degrees F; "hardened" Ethernet switches can operate over a much wider temperature range.

One of the key functions of the Industrial Ethernet is to interconnect sensors that are used for monitoring and control of manufacturing operations, plant security and numerous new sensing applications that are expected to result from the growth of the Industrial Internet. General Electric is thought to be first to use the term Industrial Internet as a way of referring to machinery, sensors and software that are networked together.

Industrial Ethernet- What's Driving Demand? There is increasing demand for Industrial Ethernet networks as awareness grows regarding the many advantages it brings to manufacturing operations. These include:

Cost Efficiencies
To remain competitive, businesses continually look for ways to operate more efficiently. Industrial Ethernet can improve manufacturing operations by monitoring real-time network performance relating to latency, jitter and packet loss. It is believed that fine tuning manufacturing operations to this extent can make it possible to develop deterministic systems in which production output levels can be predicted with 100 percent certainty.

Business Analytics
Using Ethernet protocols, valuable data gleaned from manufacturing operations can be shared more easily with analysts on the business side of the enterprise. This information can be used to improve manufacturing efficiencies and contributes to overall company profitability.

Growing Acceptance
Traditionally, manufacturers believed that it was necessary to have dedicated computers to control machinery that performed specific tasks. The concern was that production could be interrupted if other devices shared system resources. Today, Ethernet and other network solutions are helping to put these fears to rest. See "Overcoming the Fear Factor."

Media Flexibility
Ethernet network links can incorporate any transport medium that is deemed best for a given manufacturing operation. Industrial Access Points (SPs) are used to integrate wired and wireless links.

Fiber Optic Cable and Passive Optical Sensors are especially useful in factory applications because they are not susceptible to electromagnetic interference (EMI) caused by motors and other radio frequency emitters. Also, fiber does not carry electricity so there is no danger of sparking. This makes fiber ideal for use in chemical plants, refineries and other combustible environments.

Also, with a transmission range of up to 120 km (with standard transceiver), fiber is well suited for monitoring and control applications involving pipelines, roads and railways.

Wireless Technology can be used to control portable/mobile equipment on the factory floor as well as to monitor systems at locations where cable may be too difficult or expensive to install.

Copper Cable - Using Power over Ethernet (PoE), devices can be powered over the same Cat 5, 6 or 7 copper cable that is used to transmit data.

Remote Monitoring
Ethernet applications use TCP/IP, which are Internet protocols that enable data sharing and remote control of devices from any location in the world. Also, because of Ethernet's association with IP, mobile phone networks can be used to communicate with industrial networks and equipment.

Improved Response Time
Equipment malfunctions can be more easily detected and mitigated when equipment is networked together in a manner that identifies problems and pinpoints their location within the production environment.

As manufacturing equipment is updated or added to the production line, the network can provide additional bandwidth as required.

Additional Capabilities
Ethernet brings many capabilities to the factory environment, some of which we take for granted on the business side of the enterprise. These include video and voice, and a common protocol that facilitates collaboration among managers, engineers and technicians.

'Sensing' New Opportunities

Business analysts predict that the Industrial Internet will soon become the primary system for interconnecting billions of sensing devices. Within the next several years, companies will use sensors in conjunction with Big Data analytics to improve operational efficiencies as well as enhance customer service.

These developments present new opportunities for technicians who will be called upon to interconnect sensing devices with data processing equipment via cable and wireless networks. The industries expected to take fullest advantage of sensing technology are manufacturing, health care, energy and transportation.

Currently, sensors are used for such things as monitoring manufacturing operations, gas and chemical detection and analysis, device status, navigation, asset tracking, safety and security and more. Among the most measured parameters are temperature, pressure, level, flow, position, and proximity.

Watch for more exotic sensors and applications to emerge once the Industrial Internet gets traction.

Be Prepared

When Ethernet was first introduced in the 1980s, it enabled signals to be transmitted between network devices at 10 Mbps. That speed was far too slow for most industrial applications. Over time, Ethernet speeds increased until eventually achieving 100 Mbps in 1995 ("Fast Ethernet"). Ethernet was now fast enough for most industrial applications and manufacturers began to take note.

Adoption of Industrial Ethernet is now growing rapidly. In 2012 about 73% of automation components were still fieldbus-based (i.e. non-Ethernet). However, by 2016 it is projected that only 16% of automation components will be fieldbus-based.

Installers can prepare for growth in this market by becoming familiar with Industrial Ethernet equipment, standards and certifications, some of which are still being defined. For more information, go to the Industrial Internet Consortium website,