Networks aren't just for the office anymore. The rapid adoption of MES and other shop floor technologies is driving the network to he shop floor. But providing network connectivity to the shop floor is far more complex than dropping a wire down the wall. Shop floors are often harsh environments that make standard ethernet ineffective or impractical. ConnectingBlox understands these environments and can deliver networking solutions that will work reliably in the harshest of environments.
Deploying Ethernet in industrial environments requires different products and skills than deploying an office network. Power requirements, mounting options and even cable/connector types must be carefully considered and matched to the exact environment. The network's purpose may even impact design - deploying PCs to the shop floor is much different than enabling IP communication on industrial machinery. ConnectingBlox has the skills to design your industrial network in any environment and for any purpose.
Here are just a few important components of Industrial networking with which we can help:
- Hardened Switches & Industrial Firewalls
- Due to the inherently open nature of industrial protocols, it is important to consider security in your Industrial Ethernet devices. Hardened switches and industrial firewalls are specifically designed to prevent hackers from accessing sensitive data at the shop floor level where it is typically the least protected.
- Network Power
- Industrial Ethernet makes frequent use of Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology. But unlike traditional office networks, the PoE must be distributed over greater distances and with greater accuracy. So most Industrial Ethernet installations use dedicated midspan devices for better control. Power in industrial environments can often be provided through DIN rails, so if your equipment is DIN equipped it may make sense to use DIN mounted switches and even PoE devices that can deliver power from the DIN rail to remote devices.
- Modbus is a protocol suite that is used by industrial devices. Modbus was originally created for serial communication but has been adapted to IP networks. Modbus is often used in SCADA systems to provide a data stream from data acquisition devices back to supervisory computers.
- PROFINET & Ethernet/IP
- PROFINET and Ethernet/IP are the leading standards for Industrial Ethernet. PROFINET was designed as a network for automation components used throughout industrial processes. PROFINET can be used for virtually any industrail networking requirement, but it is particularly well suited to real-time systems. Ethernet/IP is a simpler and more established standard designed for more general purpose communication. As a result Ethernet/IP is almost universally supported by network equipped machinery but is less suited to real-time operation.
- Short-Haul Modems
- Short-Haul modems are common in larger industrial installations. Short-Haul modems can convert Industrial Ethernet protocols (including PROFINET and Modbus) into analog signals and send them via inexpensive coax or fiber cables over much greater distances.
- Open Platform Communications (OPC)
- OPC is an emerging standard for industrial automation and process controls (OPC originally stood for OLE for Process Control). OPC was created to help bridge the gap between industrial equipment and Windows computers. Many newer PLCs now provide an OPC Client which allows the PLC to communicate directly with an OPC Server installed on a Windows system - making communication and integration much more user-friendly.
Wireless & Cellular
As wireless networks have improved over the years, they have become a more common component of industrial networks. By using wireless access points and mesh networks specifically designed for high noise environments, an increasing number of shop floors are becoming wireless-enabled. Cellular networks have benefited from similar advances and many industrial networks and SCADA systems are equipped with cellular backups or cellular alternatives to short-haul modems.
ZigBee refers to small wireless devices with low-power radios used to create ad-hoc mesh networks. Due to ZigBee's small size, low interference rates and low cost ZigBee networks have become popular in industrial control and data collection applications. Because ZigBee is also easily embedded into other devices, many sensor and vision systems operate on ZigBee networks.
Don't Forget Serial
Of course, not every piece of equipment with which you may need to communicate has Ethernet capability. ConnectingBlox sells and supports serial and USB servers to provide communication with non-Ethernet equipped devices. Serial servers are available in sizes from 1-32 ports (more with expansion units) and can communicate with your RS-232/RS-422/RS-485 equipment. And for equipment that pre-dates serial DNC systems we can work with BTR (Behind the Tape Reader) that translate serial streams directly into machine code.