Industrial Ethernet Networks: Are They Ready for Industry 4.0?

Understanding the performance capabilities of your industrial network is critical to assessing its ability to handle current and future data sharing needs.

John Wozniak, CLPA-Americas
John Wozniak, CLPA-Americas

One of the overriding aspects of industrial networking that becomes clear when viewed over the past three decades is the pace of change that’s taken place. The speed at which updates in technology now propagate throughout the marketplace is vastly quicker than ever before. Standards are also playing a part, sometimes following, sometimes leading change.

Hence, with industrial Ethernet having now overtaken traditional fieldbus technologies in terms of the number of new nodes being installed, and influences such as Industry 4.0 having a profound impact on development, how well is industrial Ethernet suited to the demands of industrial network communication going forward?

The CLPA Gigabit white paper (available at http://awgo.to/gigabit) considers the technical aspects of industrial Ethernet technology and its variations, and their suitability to the demands of current and future application scenarios.

 

The impetus for change

The classic model for the spread of any given technology—i.e., innovation, early adoption, proliferation, consolidation, standardization and replacement—remains relevant, but there are also sweeping changes being wrought here by outside influences disrupting the usual sequence of events.

Industry 4.0 is a case in point in how change is being driven from a conceptual standpoint. The practical challenges driven by Industry 4.0 include cross-platform integration, Big Data and the burgeoning proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI), all of which are significant external forces affecting network technology development.

The proliferation of Ethernet in industrial control network applications has been very swift compared with the adoption and consolidation of fieldbus, and it is still in progress. There is no doubt that the open nature of Ethernet as a technology is also fueling already furious development schedules. Logic dictates that we should expect equally swift consolidation and standardization to soon follow.

The speed of all this change means that, as we embark on the journey to Industry 4.0, businesses need to carefully consider how to build their industrial communications infrastructure in order to remain competitive and thrive.

While industrial Ethernet networks can help future-proof your systems, the overall performance of these networks can also determine the success or failure of an enterprise. Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) demand seamless interconnection from the smallest sensor up to enterprise-level systems and beyond. Thus, the future depicted by these concepts is going to be built on data, and lots of it. This unprecedented volume of data can provide an actionable insight into the manufacturing processes. Therefore, the speed of data management capabilities of your network will be critically important.

 

The automation networking landscape

To succeed with all the data delivered by Industry 4.0, it is necessary to make the best use of the data without crippling the very communications systems being used to transmit it.

We might not know exactly what these future communications infrastructures will look like, but we can already see some clues in cloud computing. We will soon see the likes of virtual programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and virtual supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) in the cloud, collecting data from and sending it to plant floor devices in real time.

Therefore, industrial Ethernet networks are likely to remain a mainstay in industrial communications, helping to control industry, infrastructure and utilities by connecting different devices, machines, systems and users, regardless of where they are.

Not all industrial Ethernet networks are equivalent, however.

The transfer of data can vary greatly among the various Ethernet solutions available. As a result, their performance influences their ability to handle current and future data sharing needs. Whatever network and system performance we might believe to be adequate for today’s requirements, in the future we are going to need much more of it.

To help you make decisions around how to futureproof your industrial Ethernet network, the CLPA Gigabit white paper explains the properties that affect data transfer on industrial Ethernet networks. In addition, it looks at the design of CC-Link IE Field, how it compares with other solutions, and how this technology addresses the specific requirements of Industry 4.0.

To get a copy of the CLPA Gigabit White paper, visit awgo.to/gigabit.

 

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