A dominant trend in industrial automation is the shift from proprietary communications structures to the networking standard of Ethernet and Internet Protocol (IP). Prior to the move to Ethernet and IP—or “EtherIP” as it has come to be known—industries had to support multiple systems with separate wire types and protocols, such as ProfiNet and ModBus.With the emergence of EtherIP, many functions are being consolidated onto one Ethernet-based network. The trend toward EtherIP in industrial environments has been going on for years, and experts are saying that the industry has passed the tipping point where a majority of industrial automation operations are moving to EtherIP.
EtherIP leads to simplification of the infrastructure whereas in the past, organizations might have had to worry about a number different protocols and connectivity schemes that were supported by multiple vendors. Now they just need to worry about one.In the past, companies might have had Token Ring and NetWare and AppleTalk, and had to make them work together. After TCP/IP and Ethernet emerged as standards, the need to support disparate networking technologies has essentially disappeared.
Simplifying Industrial Networks
The industrial automation world is beginning to enjoy this same level of simplification, making life easier for network administrators and others who are responsible for ensuring that the network supports the business.
The migration of industrial automation does not happen overnight, however. Organizations will need to replace certain tools and can expect to incur additional costs. But once everything is on board, Ether IP will allow companies operate one type of network that provides connectivity with simplicity. Another benefit is the convergence of functions within a facility. Businesses are beginning to understand the value system convergence brings to organizations. As systems converge, interdependency occurs between the systems, so faults and failures no longer remain isolated within individual systems.
In addition to convergence, other factors are driving the adoption of EtherIP in industrial automation. Among these are cost reduction and flexibility. Ethernet reduces the cost of wiring a control system because twisted-pair cabling has benefited from efficiencies gained by years of use in office networks. Different manufacturers who had their own type of control wiring and protocol can now merge them onto a single EtherIP network. Ethernet can now support the three major control functions of process control, configuration and data sharing.
Ethernet IP usually runs over some form of copper but it can also run over fiber or Wi-Fi. Regardless of the network medium, in the industrial automation market Ethernet and IP is clearly gaining momentum as the protocol stack of choice to replace the multiple protocols of the past.
When it comes to addressing the emerging networking trends in industrial automation, network professionals need to stay educated on the latest technology developments and implementation methods. Much of the equipment in place in these environments is older, legacy technology, and it stands to reason that there is a learning curve required to bring skills to the level needed in order for organizations to get the maximum payback from these emerging network technologies.
It’s important to make sure that network installers are certified and experienced in working with Ethernet and IP, preferably in an industrial automation environment. That may be a difficult set of skills to find, but can be done. Be sure to leverage available resources in the marketplace. Some networking vendors that are focusing on the Ethernet IP business, are training people how to install equipment properly, and offering customers assurances that installations are done correctly.
As an example, Belden Inc., a provider of Ethernet solutions for industrial environments, offers a Belden Industrial Network Certification Program that provides customers with certified industrial Ethernet network infrastructures.“Certification assures the network was designed, installed and tested by well-trained, tested and authorized program partners, and that it meets Belden's industrial standards and uses appropriate Belden, Hirschmann, Tofino, GarrettCom and Lumberg industrial products,” says Brian Oulton, Director of Marketing-Industrial at Belden. Oulton says Belden and NETSCOUT experts are working together on key parts of the program. “As part of the program every network design and post-installation test is reviewed and approved by Belden's experts,” he says.
Back to Basics
Another good practice is to get back to basics when installing cabling in industrial environments. For instance, when putting in cable for Ethernet IP don’t just assume it’s going to work. The concept of “plug and play” is a nice cliché, but it is not necessarily a reality in a production environment, including an industrial automation setting.
Companies need to conduct proper testing before using any network equipment such as copper or fiber optic cables in a production scenario. This should be a high level of testing with certification, so companies can accurately predict how long the equipment will perform sufficiently in an industrial environment. If companies are using fiber, they need to keep everything extremely clean in order to ensure maximum performance. In an industrial environment it’s particularly important to be on the lookout for potential problems such as static electricity, which can cause problems with transmissions.
For many industrial automation facilities, the move to Ethernet IP will be gradual. Many of these environments still have a mixture of older protocols, and are slowly transitioning to Ethernet. How quickly or how slowly an organization completes the transition depends on factors such as capital expense budgets and the size of current infrastructure. Some environments are so large that networks might have hundreds of components, and migrating to Ethernet will be quite difficult. In these cases it might make good sense to replace legacy equipment and protocols in stages.
Regardless of the strategy employed in moving to Ethernet, it is vital to maintain network uptime in order to keep the production line going. It’s also important to make the necessary process changes in the production line to take full advantage of the capabilities of Ethernet and IP.
Proactive Steps for EtherIP
Prior to any network upheaval, be sure to review plant blueprints to assess where legacy protocols are and where network weaknesses are, and take proactive steps to understand the best way to proceed with the network upgrade.
With proper training, certifications, pre-deployment testing and implementation strategy, network managers at industrial automation operations can be sure that they have taken the necessary steps to eliminate hazards and avoid performance problems now and down the road. Managers can then have confidence knowing that the physical plant (including all networking equipment) is highly unlikely to be the cause of any operating problems.
Networks typically have “bathtub curve”, with a high rate of failure in the early stages, followed by a relatively steady state and then a high rate of failure at the end because of obsolescence. Problems in the early stages can be greatly reduced by proper installation, configuration, testing and certification.
The risk of not following best practices when it comes to the move to Ethernet and IP is great. Network failures can result in “stolen bandwidth”, where organizations put in cable and expect to run at a certain bandwidth that they are paying for and then not get that capacity. Even worse, failures can lead to operational downtime, disgruntled customers and lost business.
NETSCOUT provides many resources to help our customers solve (Industrial Automation) challenges.
Open DeviceNet Vendors Association
A global association whose members are comprised of the world’s leading automation companies. ODVA’s mission is to advance open, interoperable information and communication technologies in industrial automation.
OneTouch™ AT Network Assistant
All-in-one Gigabit Ethernet troubleshooter for copper, fiber optic, and Wi-Fi networks