Belden Conference Disseminates Wide and Deep Ethernet Education

Nov. 6, 2013
In the last decade or so, even by the most conservative estimates, use of industrial Ethernet has grown 30 percent, replacing traditional fieldbus protocols for critical applications within manufacturing plants.

That means many people are involved in planning a new industrial Ethernet network or updating segments of the manufacturing process with Ethernet-enabled components. And many people are searching for information specifically related to industrial Ethernet.

A couple hundred information-seekers found what they needed through three days of sessions at the 2013 Belden Industrial Ethernet Infrastructure Design Seminar, which took place in Philadelphia in October. Noting that this is “an extraordinary time of transformation” for industrial plants, Belden CEO John Stroup noted that networks are moving from copper to fiber cables, from kilobaud to multi-gigabit communication speeds and from legacy fieldbuses to Ethernet-based networks.

“If we don’t seem nervous about it, it’s because we’ve already done it [in the broadcast industry]. We take our knowledge and experience into the industrial automation world in an informed and knowledgeable way,” Stroup said.

Belden, which started as a cabling company and has been around for more than 100 years, has one of the broadest portfolios of industrially hardened equipment of any vendor. Products on display at the conference included Hirschmann and GarrettCom industrial switches, routers and wireless devices; Tofino industrial security products; Lumberg industrial enclosure-less I/O and connectivity products; and Belden industrial cables.

Acknowledging that there are significant application differences between industrial Ethernet networks and enterprise Ethernet networks, presenters were clearly focused on industrial applications and concerns. In lectures, hands-on labs and in Technology Showcase exhibits, the system integrator and end user attendees got detailed and practical information on designing and supporting industrial networks.

While Ethernet has been used in industry for quite a while, Belden Senior Vice President Steve Biegacki acknowledged that “it is very early in the industrial Ethernet space. We are now learning how to do things like make it secure.” Using industrial Ethernet to create safety and automation networks presents “issues, but there are also opportunities,” he said.

Attendees also got to learn about the Belden Certified Industrial Network program. Through this program, Belden partners with a qualified system integrator to provide an extended warranty on industrial network operations. Proper Layer 1 devices (cables and connectors) are specified upfront to allow for movement or other environmental factors, and proper Layer 2 devices (Ethernet switches and routers, wireless access points, security appliances) are designed in from the start to achieve the proper partitioning and functioning of the network. Qualified installers route cables from end devices to switches, building a supportable infrastructure. Once installation is complete, physical testing ensures the network functions properly.

All test results are reviewed by the installer, Belden and the customer and become part of the permanent file of documentation. This enables the network to be expanded as needs change, and minor changes can often be made without the involvement of an integrator or Belden, which means problems can easily be remedied as they occur, said a spokesman.

Like other manufacturers, Belden itself has had to face the challenges of obsolescence and replacing legacy equipment. Its Richmond, Ind., plant, for example, manufactures a variety of cables on long-running legacy equipment—some dating back to the 1950s. Its multi-year upgrade strategy to incorporate Ethernet-enabled equipment, completed in 2011, was designed to last 20-25 years and eliminate manual monitoring and manual change outs of gears, providing significant savings.

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