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Handing data in the new industrial revolution

Handing data in the new industrial revolution

The fast pace at which the Internet of Things is moving is opening up a huge necessity for organisations to seriously consider how they handle Big Data, which is key for improved manufacturing. Ivor Hunt of Weidmuller UK explores how to manage volume data being generated from field devices and how this creates challenges for the networking infrastructure.

Seen as the next technological revolution, the Internet of Things (IoT) encompasses any object with a unique identifier that can be connected in an internet-like capacity and communicate with similar objects. The IoT vision is of a massively instrumented world of intelligent sensors and actuators (both analogue and digital), communicating using IP to improve performance and efficiency.

In the realms of automation, the key areas where big data can improve manufacturing performance is through better forecasts of product demand and production, understanding plant performance across multiple metrics, and providing service and support to customers quicker. All end devices are envisaged to be accessed using the internet infrastructure, thus opening up the opportunities to increase efficiency through the likes of better integration with business systems, to monitoring equipment for maintenance and thus minimising downtime due to equipment failure.

Industrial Ethernet

As manufacturers look to improve their processes and productivity with new technology, many are turning to Ethernet technology. Industrial Ethernet networks use intelligent switching technology which can communicate with control networks. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of device-level networks and Industrial Ethernet?

Device-level networks are those that connect discrete devices such as sensors, switches and motor starters to controllers, usually PLCs and PACs. Traditionally, organisations used a variety of fieldbuses such as DeviceNet, Profibus and Modbus; each fieldbus has specific power, cable and communication requirements, depending on the application, which leads to duplication of multiple networks in the same location. Industrial Ethernet, however, with its large bandwidth, high throughput and support of multiple protocols, can address a user’s needs with just one cable.

However, when it comes to connecting field-level equipment such as transmitters, control valves, motors, proximity sensors and the like, to control systems, then fieldbus networks are often the most cost-effective way to go. Whilst Fieldbus solutions are wired, the Industrial Ethernet networks are faster, have greater bandwidth, unlimited node counts, improved diagnostics, offer easier integration and can use standard wireless. With over 300 million switched Ethernet ports installed worldwide, Ethernet technology is widely accepted as it is easy to understand, install, manage and maintain. It is low cost and flexible, and supports a variety of network topologies, and can deliver much higher performance compared to traditional, non-Ethernet solutions.

But if this all sounds so good, surely there are some challenges with becoming so reliant on the internet? The first concern is that of reliability. Most Ethernet installations use full-duplex switched Ethernet switches, but early installations some years ago often used hubs. These were effectively repeaters that connected multiple devices over a shared platform. Because of the shared platform, data collisions could occur when a number of devices were all communicating at the same time. Now the switches make it possible for several users to send information over a network at the same time without any reduction in speed. In a fully switched network, there are no hubs so each Ethernet network has a dedicated segment. 

It is essential in an automation application for the information packet to be sent and received in a specific period of time, with absolute confidence that the instruction will meet the device at the appropriate moment. 

Ethernet switches

There are many switch choices on the market from Basic Line (unmanaged) and Premium Line (managed), including Power over Ethernet (PoE) switches, to meet the needs of industrial communication applications. Managed switches give the administrator the functionality to be able to configure the switches to their own requirements, providing performance, management, diagnostic and security features, where the unmanaged switches cannot.

With up to four PoE+ ports, the switches utilise the same cable. PoE switches supply operating power to PoE enabled Ethernet components in parallel to data traffic. Typical PoE enabled connectivity components include WLAN access points, IP telephony and IP cameras. Routing data and power transmissions, in parallel, will considerably reduce wiring costs. The Weidmuller PoE switches are operated from 24V and supply PoE enabled Ethernet devices with up to 30W of input power. This specially designed feature eliminates the need for an additional 48V power supply module, which is required for most industrial PoE switches. More importantly, the managed-version supports remote on/off and reset control of connected PoE enabled end devices.  

The other key area in which to be vigilant is security. Because the idea of networking devices is relatively new, security has not always been considered in product design. Companies often fail to change the default passwords on their smart devices, thus an IoT device that needs to be directly accessed via the internet needs to be installed on its own network segment with restricted access and monitored.

Security experts have warned of the potential risk of large numbers of unsecured devices connecting to the Internet since the introduction of IoT, and in December 2013 a researcher at Proofpoint, an enterprise security firm, discovered the first IoT botnet. According to Proofpoint, more than 25% of the botnet was made up of devices other than computers, including smart TVs and household appliances.

When EPLAN presented ‘Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution event’ earlier this year it was said that “Despite the perceived complexity of Industry 4.0, what companies sometimes fail to realise is that many of the key technologies are available today. As a result, many companies are only using a fraction of the potential of the technologies they already have in place, which means that they are needlessly sacrificing revenues and productivity enhancements. If UK companies are to compete successfully in the global marketplace, it is essential that they take full advantage of Industry 4.0 has to offer.”

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