Opening the Door, Whose Job Is It?

Nov. 5, 2009
Ethernet is one of those technologies that blurs the line between the information technology department and engineering.

IT departments adopted the technology early on in order to fulfill their mission to use technology to increase white-collar productivity. At the same time, engineers were still debating the wisdom of using any network at all. The head of controls engineering at a large automotive engine manufacturing plant told me in the early ’90s that he would never approve a networking wire connected to a programmable logic controller.

Somewhere around five years later, I started going to classes on DeviceNet. This was networking—but a network solely connecting control to input/output field devices. This was totally under the control of engineering. They didn’t have to worry about IT people—and, in fact, didn’t want to have anything to do with them unless it had to do with connecting to the enterprise system in order to place work order requisitions and the like.

Now, information needs drive connectivity from field devices to enterprise applications. Ethernet became ubiquitous in the enterprise because it was relatively simple, wiring could be inexpensive and it allowed myriad devices and applications to run over it. So Ethernet has reached the factory floor. It now behooves engineers to learn more about how to install and maintain this network—and to know when to call in the network administration professionals. We’re all connected now.

Check out these two Ethernet-related podcasts: on power over Ethernet, at, and on managed vs. unmanaged switches, at

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