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Control, Monitor, Process: The Role of Industrial Ethernet in Manufacturing

As industrial Ethernet becomes more critical to maximizing the profitability of an industrial operation, converging networks, virtual networking and a common ecosystem will become critical factors.

Mike Bayda, Nexans
Mike Bayda, Nexans

Reports show that the use of industrial Ethernet to connect, control and monitor factories is growing at a rate of 20 percent annually. This growth is being driven by manufacturers that are accelerating the implementation of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 tools and processes to maximize profitability.

The digital transformation of manufacturing, sometimes referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, is encouraging manufacturers to migrate from legacy fieldbus systems to the modern industrial Ethernet, which is becoming the network of choice in harsh industrial environments for its simplicity, scalability, diagnostic capabilities and high performance.

Industrial evolution

The first industrial revolution in the 1780s was defined by the advent of the steam engine and mechanical production equipment. The second industrial revolution was marked by the introduction of electricity and the assembly line to mass produce things (think Henry Ford’s “You can have it in any color you want as long as it’s black”). The third industrial revolution started in the 1960s with the introduction of electronics, IT networks and the first stages of manufacturing process digitalization.

Today, we are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, characterized by the introduction of cyber-physical systems—a mechanism controlled or monitored by computer-based algorithms tightly integrated with the Internet and its users.

Reliable connections between the machines, the people and the Internet are, in a word, everything. One bad connection can mean the flow of information is disrupted, which could have devastating results on your operation and your bottom line.

Massive growth of connected devices

It is projected that somewhere between 20 billion and 75 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020. A significant number of these devices will be on the factory floor.

What does that mean to the industrial network? It means that industrial Ethernet solutions will become even more critical to maximizing the profitability of an industrial operation. Converging networks, virtual networking and a common ecosystem will be the pieces that matter most.

Common ecosystem vs. piecemeal solutions

In the office environment of the 1970s and 1980s, we had piecemeal solutions. Most were proprietary like Wang, IBM and Xerox. The office environment has since moved away from piecemeal solutions and settled on Ethernet as a common ecosystem to connect everything.

The same transition is now happening in the industrial space. Piecemeal fieldbus solutions are being replaced by industrial Ethernet solutions at a rate of 20 percent per year.

With industrial Ethernet networks connecting machines, devices and sensors on the factory floor and synchronizing them with the office network, technicians on the shop floor can make real-time adjustments to ensure targeted numbers are hit. At the same time, the front office can see the results in real time. This eliminates the Tuesday meeting to talk about Monday’s results.

In another example, floor technicians can more efficiently analyze improvements and the office can quickly see the expected results. This saves significant amounts of time and cuts back on unnecessary spending.

Floor technicians can also now create what is known as a virtual twin of their factory environment. They can run experiments and analysis on these twins to determine how to maximize output and quickly forecast potential bottlenecks along the critical path.

To learn how Nexans can help you leverage industrial Ethernet to your advantage, visit


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