BLOG: A Quick Guide to Industrial Ethernet

What is Industrial Ethernet?

Industrial Ethernet refers to the use of networking devices, usually switches, in harsh environments.

Ethernet is the standard protocol for transmitting data across networks and the Internet. It breaks the data into small chunks and uses a “best-effort” delivery method that means sometimes, data chunks are delivered out of sequence or even lost altogether.

A harsh environment is anything outside the controlled environment typical in enterprise office networks that use dedicated rooms with controlled temperatures, humidity, and dust. Harsh environments can be found in places like factories, warehouses, onboard vehicles and outdoor areas.

Some critical applications require highly reliable and accurate delivery of data, which led to the creation of Industrial Ethernet (IE). It uses additional protocols to guarantee that data is delivered on time, in the correct sequence, and without loss. IE networking equipment is also different because it must survive harsh temperatures, dust, moisture, vibration, and electrical interference.

What are the characteristics of Industrial Ethernet Devices?

There are many types of IE device, but they share some common features:
  • In harsh environments, cabinets with “DIN rail” mounts protect sensitive electrical equipment. Therefore, most IE devices have DIN rail mounts instead of the standard 19-inch rack mountings commonly found on business equipment.
  • DC electricity usually powers IE devices since that is the most common power source in industrial applications used by other devices such as Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs)
  • IE devices are fanless, since this minimizes problems with dust and moisture ingress, and ensures long-term reliability

There are also some specific features required by specific markets, such as anti-corrosion protection for chemical or marine applications, explosion resistance for usage inside mines, and tolerance to vibration for vehicular solutions.

Why would I use Industrial Ethernet?

Critical applications use IE because standard Ethernet is not reliable enough to deliver data accurately, or the environmental conditions are too harsh for regular business-grade networking equipment.

Some typical applications for Industrial Ethernet include:

Manufacturing and Logistics

Production lines have used computer-controlled equipment for many years. The introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT) has created the ability to instrument manufacturing equipment and capture large amounts of real-time data. However, to take advantage of this opportunity requires a robust operational technology (OT) network to transport that data from the factory floor to the data center’s IT network. In turn, this requires integration with the existing control equipment (programmable logic controllers or PLCs). So, the OT network must tolerate the harsh environment of the factory floor, it must understand the native language of the PLCs, and it must deliver time-sensitive data accurately.

Outdoor applications

Physical security solutions often utilize network devices in outdoor applications, such as video cameras, security gates, ID badge readers, motion sensors, outdoor lighting, etc. Since many of these devices require power, it’s common to use the network to deliver Power over Ethernet (PoE), as this simplifies wiring and makes it easier to control the device. Since the network is deployed outdoors and may not be temperature-controlled, specialized equipment is required to operate reliably. Devices with extended temperature ratings and not forced-cooled (fanless) are ideal for outdoor applications where it may be dusty or humid.

Electricity substations

Electricity networks are often in remote areas, making them vulnerable to attack and expensive to maintain, so robust, reliable equipment and secure networking solutions are essential. Electrical substations pose specific challenges for networking devices due to the high levels of electromagnetic interference (EMI), which necessitates specially certified equipment. Additionally, fiber cables are preferred over copper as they are not susceptible to EMI, so network devices that support optical interfaces simplify installation.

Vehicles and trains

Sometimes the data you want to capture is generated within a moving vehicle, so network devices must tolerate severe vibration. International standards stipulate how much vibration a device should withstand to ensure reliable operation under extreme conditions. It is essential to select only products that are certified to ensure long-term reliability.

What Industrial Ethernet products are available?

Allied Telesis has a full range of Industrial Ethernet and ruggedized networking products to suit all the above applications.

  • Our IE switches are fanless and designed to operate in extreme heat and vibration. They support manufacturing protocols, making them easy to deploy on the factory floor and integrate with existing OT networks. Having no fan enables these devices to operate in dusty and humid conditions and improves reliability too. They are certified for use in electrically noisy environments with high EMI levels, like electrical substations, and optical models are also available.
  • Media converters are essential in most networks to enable easy connection of fiber and copper cables. Our devices are fanless and capable of surviving the extreme temperatures found in outdoor and uncontrolled environments.
  • To complement both the switches and media converters, we have a range of small form-factor (SFP) optics designed for high-temperature operation.

Industrial Ethernet experts

It’s important to note that unlike Ethernet, there is no single set of standards to define Industrial Ethernet. Each application has its own set of requirements and certifications that apply. Therefore, it is critical to understand your application’s specific requirements to select the best solution to meet your needs. Allied Telesis has been making networking solutions for over 30 years and is happy to share their expertise to ensure you get the best results.

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