There is a growing focus in manufacturing companies on systems for moving data collected on the plant floor into higher level business and financial systems for use in business decision making. And while enterprise software systems can connect a company’s different levels, it still takes hardware switches to hook up and facilitate those software connections.
One of the latest such devices to hit the market is the Catalyst 2955, rolled out earlier this year by Cisco Systems Inc. “It is an environmentally optimized Ethernet switch targeted for deployments in automation and process—traditionally harsher environments than the usual IT ones,” says James Collinge, product line manager for Cisco's Desktop Switching Business Unit, in San Jose, Calif.
The switch’s focus is on a set of intelligent Ethernet services. “But we also focused on taking a packet of information and applying the quality of service to different types of traffic, either real-time or batch.”
The new switch “is different than enterprise Ethernet-switching gear. It can tolerate higher temperature and higher non-condensing ranges. It can also withstand much higher levels of shock and vibration,” Collinge says.
Industrial switches need to optimize form factor for power. Typically it’s a 24-volt system. “With alarm relays, customers can set thresholds, counters or statistics on the product. For example, if that specific counter or statistic is triggered, an alarm is sounded.”
Collinge believes there are three ways this product will make it to the plant floor for use in vertical-connectivity systems.
“One is via direct enterprise engagements, such as the Fortune 500 companies that purchase the switches. Those could be IT companies or preferred systems integrators who are doing networking as well as manufacturing-to-control integration. You’ll also see direct-to-market vendors here.”
The second, says Collinge, “is through traditional channels of manufacturing solutions—for example, in North America, Rockwell Automation or Emerson Process. We’re [Cisco] the OEM.” Control network engineers will be engaged in this channel, he says.
The third approach is “the traditional existing IT enterprise channel.”
Collinge adds that security features are such that, “as you extend your systems to the factory floor, you don’t compromise security as is possible with traditional bus systems.”