Industrial Ethernet: Increasing factory-floor productivity

May 1, 2012
Cost-efficient, reliable Ethernet ensures continuous communication in offices and on factory floors. Industrial Ethernet is proliferating in manufacturing environments, boosting control and productivity of networked equipment and procedures.

When the local area network (LAN) technology known as Ethernet first came into existence, it was used to make office-level communications faster, and convey large data streams at greater speeds. Ethernet's high data capacity in business and office networks still allows multiple clients to use the same network and share information. Now, manufacturers are also leveraging this technology for sophisticated industrial communications.

Industrial Ethernet applies the Ethernet and Internet Protocol (IP) standards developed for data communication to manufacturing control networks. It delivers the reliability and network security of traditional fieldbus solutions, plus improves bandwidth, open connectivity, and standardization — allowing greater control over networked equipment.

Manufacturers ultimately implement Ethernet for network intelligence, increasingly ruggedized components (such as cables and connectors), security and reliability, manageability, and ease of use.

Realtime operation

Ethernet technology currently provides four data rates: 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps, Gigabit Ethernet, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Now, Gigabit Ethernet is rapidly becoming the network of choice for higher-level industrial control applications due to its fast, realtime operation — useful on factory floors where constant communication is crucial to manufacturing and end product results.

Historically, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) could not handle Gigabit Ethernet, limiting its use in manufacturing. Advances in PLC operating capabilities now enable them to efficiently handle the high-speed, realtime performance offered by this speedy networking option. This provides manufacturers with a significantly faster way to communicate critical information from the factory floor, plus better connectivity and transparency to boot. More specifically, Gigabit Ethernet at the PLC level allows communication of data upstream to facilitate more informed business decisions.

Final consideration: Jacketing

Most Ethernet jacketing is either polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or thermoplastic elastomer (TPE). In relatively non-challenging office settings, PVC — a chemically and mechanically stable plastic material with superior fire-retardant properties — is most common. On the other hand, TPE is sometimes used on Ethernet cable installed in more demanding industrial settings. This material consists of both plastic and rubber to resist weld slag, oil, and other factors that may impact production.

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