The Business Benefits of Ethernet on the Plant Floor

July 31, 2012
Industrial Ethernet is not just a platform to carry your production data. It’s a transformational technology that provides agility through the use of mobile devices and streamlines operations by connecting disparate teams and creating higher levels of machine and device interoperability.

The results are in and, in less than a decade, industrial Ethernet has gone from being a technology seen by many as unsuitable for the factory floor to being considered the most innovative advance in automation technology in the past ten years. 

But the popularity of adopting Ethernet to replace traditional fieldbuses throughout industry on everything from I/O and drives to controllers, HMI and beyond doesn’t tell the whole story. With its combination of commercial, IT, and industrial-strength capabilities, industrial Ethernet is being adopted by industries across the board. Why? Because the business benefits are clear.

Expertise connection
Most manufacturers need all the help they can get, and have seen their in-house domain expertise dwindle through baby boomer retirements, economy-driven downsizing, and a lack of well-trained newcomers. Luckily, the use of Ethernet on the plant floor lessens the need for the levels of in-house expertise needed in the past. With industrial Ethernet, you can deliver machine and network status along with voice and video communications to the experts — wherever they may be. In return, over the same network, these experts can send you updated programs and help without travel costs or delays. The best part is that all of this can be done done securely and with as much (or little) access to and control of your equipment as you decide.

Asset connection
The bulk of costs associated with production downtime is typically taken up by travel time to the machine, travel time to get tools, travel time to get drawings, delays in isolating the problem, running between the machine and computer, and delays tied to locating and acquiring replacement parts. With a connected industrial Ethernet network infrastructure, and a bit of wireless networking, all of these issues that once required multiple trips can now be delivered to personnel wherever they may be.

By adapting commercial technology to the plant floor, operators and maintenance personnel can now have one-touch tablet computer access to drawings, stock, machine status, repair videos, re-order and emergency call-out services related to your process and machinery. As a result, repair times decrease while, at the same time, your staff’s ability to make the right decisions and correct repairs increases.

If you’re still not sold on the capabilities of wireless on the factory floor, check out IEEE-802.11n. Its performance approaches that of 100 Mbit/s wired Ethernet and its proven stability and deployment make it worthy of use on the production floor. Click here to access more information about 802.11n. As a matter of fact, it’s already being used to successfully control some of the most demanding real-time control applications in industry. 

Best practice connection 
By bringing Ethernet technology on to the plant floor a little more than a decade ago, IT and engineering pioneers opened the door for a whole new world of ideas to be applied for the benefit of the production industries. From collaboration tools and social networking to Google searches and smart phone apps, the world is now filled with best practice examples that can be leveraged by industry through the Ethernet network.

These kinds of activities are already happening today and the business benefits can be huge. Just consider the difference these technologies have already made in the transportation industries. Companies that used to put out a “tracer” to find lost packages in a few days can now tell you when the truck is turning on to your street, as well as how fast it is moving, when it will arrive, and how warm it is inside of the truck.

All that’s missing from your ability to transform your business in a similar fashion is to encourage everyone on your staff to think about the possibilities and provide them with the Ethernet network infrastructure to make it a reality.

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