IER: A Plan for Plantwide Ethernet

As Contributing Editor Terry Costlow states in his cover article, “While Ethernet was initially derided as a weak technology that couldn’t perform in harsh environments, its reach now includes the majority of many [industrial] peripherals, including robots.”

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Ethernet has become the enabler for rapid adoption of new technologies crossing over from the consumer realms—smart phones, tablets, cloud computing, and more. These new technologies bring a range of ease of use, ease of implementation and ease of plant floor management benefits that did not exist before. But without a solid industrial networking foundation on which to build, the benefits may never be realized.

With lots of industrialized variants of Ethernet being developed and refined, picking a protocol is only one part of a solid plan. But once you do, more and more detailed guidance is available. This summer Cisco Systems and Rockwell Automation announced an updated version of their “Converged Plantwide Ethernet (CPwE) Design and Implementation Guide.” The now 564-page PDF aims to assist with developing an architecture for industrial Ethernet applications. It “focuses on the manufacturing industry to specifically help manufacturers seeking to integrate or upgrade their Industrial Automation and Control System (IACS) networks to standard Ethernet and IP networking technologies.”

Rockwell Automation (www.rockwellautomation.com) and Cisco (www.cisco.com) have been working for years on “reference architectures” and other guidelines to help manufacturers build a solid industrial network foundation based on EtherNet/ IP. This guide is built on, and adds to, design guidelines from the Cisco Ethernet-to-the-Factory (EttF) solution and the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture. The guide introduction says it addresses “what manufacturers are interested in,” which reads as a list of potential benefits of industrial Ethernet overall. Specifically:

• Globalizing operations through IT integration with control systems.

• Reducing mean-time-to-repair (MTTR) and increasing overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

• Lowering the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the current IACS network approach.

• Integrating the IACS with the wider enterprise.

• Mitigating risks by improving network uptime and equipment availability with superior security.

• Reducing costs and improved asset utilization.

Guide authors include Paul Didier, Cisco industry solutions architect for manufacturing, and Gregory Wilcox, Rockwell Automation business development manager for networks. They and others have been busy producing a range of tutorials based on the material. For example, interested information technology (IT) and controls professionals can watch videos online anytime (www.ab.com/networks/architectures.html), or attend a Demonstration Workshop session at the Rockwell Automation 2011 Automation Fair conference this month (www.rockwellautomation.com/events/automationfair).

Co-presenters at the Automation Fair session include Ethernet experts from Panduit and Fluke Networks. A general Google search brings up a wealth of other guides, whitepapers and tutorials offering plant-floor Ethernet specifics from additional vendors you might already be familiar with. So while a comprehensive foundational plan is necessary, it’s not hard anymore to find knowledgeable help.

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