Industrial Ethernet: Transforming logistics and the production line

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Industrial Ethernet: Transforming logistics and the production line

Infrastructure can be a roadblock. A network based on unified standards can make communication more efficient. But are network engineers prepared for the new challenges of managing and securing an Industrial Ethernet?

by Ingo Schneider

Ethernet is the only technology that can provide a single method of communication capable of linking all operations from the plant floor to the back office and administration together. The flexible nature of Ethernet, which supports many data formats, eliminates communication breakdowns between the growing number and varying types of industrial devices from monitoring sensors to automated machinery. These devices now need to be interconnected as IoT and robotics become increasingly pervasive in manufacturing. Connectivity needs to be delivered via ruggedized switches that are fit for purpose in an industrial environment.

Manufacturing is only as fast as the slowest component

The manufacturing process is only as fast as its slowest component, so ensuring maximum device interoperability and efciency should be made an absolute priority. It is fast and reliable connectivity that brings every aspect of the warehouse or manufacturing plant together, and supports the widespread robotics and automation deployed in heavy industry. In the modern plant or warehouse, all deployed local area network switches should be capable of 10Gb Ethernet connectivity to support high rates of data transfer between large numbers of devices and avoid bottlenecking. New switches incorporate Power over Ethernet (PoE) to allow small industrial devices, such as wireless access points, sensors and cameras, to be deployed in isolated areas.

Rugged environments

We also need to take into account the ‘health’ of the network infrastructure. Maintaining a consistent level of operations requires hardware that is up to the task. Switches and access points positioned across the factory or warehouse must be ruggedized to avoid them falling foul of any adverse conditions they may experience. Moisture, dust, extreme temperature and vibrations all pose threats to commercial hardware deployed in workplaces, such as ofces or commercial environments. There is now a new generation of rugged switches that are capable of withstanding up to 75°C and are resistant to electromagnetic interference as standard. Network agility is also vital to ensure the scalability of automated operations based on demand. New developments in fabric networking can reduce the deployment time of any new devices on the network, be it automated machinery or wearable technology for employees. Rapid device on­boarding cuts the time and effort required to introduce these devices to the workplace, and grouping devices with common policies reduces the threat of later downtime caused by poor interoperability.

Industrial Ethernet: Ingo Schneider - Alcatel Lucent Enterprise Germany

Ingo Schneider is director for business development in data network infrastructure at Alcatel Lucent Enterprise (ALE) Germany.

Add to this the capability for selfhealing in the event of any service interruption, and the benefit of an Ethernet­ fabric networking approach is clear when considering the heavy costs incurred by network outages. The threat of database breaches, information theft and other malicious attacks means robust security is of high importance to the industrial network. In addition to traditional security measures, such as firewalls and authentication, it is also possible to deliver ‘defense in depth’ security on every layer of the network. For example, CodeGuardian technology safeguards against many threats to the network by guaranteeing security at the hardware level. Switches and routers positioned at the network edge can be employed to provide an extra layer of security by supporting policy enforcement and traffic anomaly detection with deep packet inspection. Network engineers not only monitor for threats but ideally should also be capable of identifying potential bottlenecks on the network and find a resolution before a knock­ on effect is created.  A dedicated network management system can provide a complete set of management tools and detailed analytics in a ‘single pane of glass’ view. This enables a business to realize cost and efficiency savings with a lean IT operation, while keeping an eye on all aspects of network security.

Safety as a service

In the workplace, rapid response and resolution to any incident or accident could potentially save lives. Automatic alarms and emergency notification can be built into the network and are critical for alerting supervisors to fires or employee injuries. A universal notification service will deliver the right alerts to the right people at the right time and can also be integrated into other safety and security systems, such as CCTV or a Burner Management System (BMS), to ensure complete protection. Any service should provide highlydetailed safety reporting and incident logging to allow the health and safety officers to diagnose and examine any areas of particular concern, and then take pre­emptive action to ensure preventative measures have been put in place.

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