In recent history, the industrial space has experienced dramatic changes in its workforce, shifts in geography, changes and shortages of supply and suppliers and economic uncertainty that has forced significant modifications to even fundamental company operations.
Combined, these changes have awakened those of us in the industrial space, and we now understand that we must make bold decisions to innovate and adapt -- or face the consequences and fall behind.
While the industry reels from these recent changes and hunts for more efficient, advanced industrial networking solutions, it’s possible the framework for a more streamlined, productive future is already in place.
Largely untouched by the industry turmoil, Ethernet has crept into the industrial space, starting with computer networking and maturing quickly from there. Ethernet was used to build PLC and DCS networks and went on to replace I/O networks and fieldbuses, becoming the most widely and aggressively adopted industrial technology over the past 15 years.
But how and why might industrial Ethernet enable the industry to achieve a more robust, advanced state?
The Productivity of One
Industrial Ethernet has grown to accommodate nearly every industrial application, and has the capacity, capability and cost effectiveness to replace dozens of antiquated technologies that cover areas from manufacturing facilities to oil rigs to smart grids.
By moving to one network technology, the industry could win big. Just for starters, it would reduce lifecycle costs associated with multiple technologies, including training, expertise, spare parts and refinement of procedures.
Because Ethernet isn’t really a new technology (the enterprise space had a significant head start on the industrial space), there is an abundance of expertise, functionality and tools to manage the technology more efficiently than many of the solutions that have gone before it. Additionally, industrial Ethernet gains the benefit of easily transporting more control and information shared from increasingly smarter automation devices.
Agility that Makes it Nearly Invisible
The added capacity and speed of industrial Ethernet, along with its fundamental design parameters, enables manufacturers and others in the industrial space to design and deploy industrial Ethernet infrastructures that easily expand and evolve. Costs become a very small (nearly invisible) component of any new initiative, effectively moving control and information to and from point A and point B, securely and reliably.
Most importantly, this ability to communicate doesn’t stop at a company’s walls. Information can be securely shared with suppliers, distributors and customers by nearly any medium, be it voice, video, machine control commands, HMI data or all of the above, due to the compatibility between the enterprise and industrial Ethernet.
Enabler of Innovation
Given added productivity and a “nearly invisible” ability to communicate, the key question for the industry becomes “how do we innovate further?” Here’s one example...
Consider the package delivery industry. In the past, lost packages were located by a “tracer” -- with no promises and a timeline for answers up to three days. Today these companies can tell any consumer practically instantly that their package is in on a truck two streets away -- along with how fast it’s moving (and what the driver had for breakfast this morning).
Apply the same logic to industrial settings. Shouldn’t it be possible to adopt the same technology to provide real-time industrial machine and PLC status updates, access drawings and control programs, show videos of how to repair breakdowns, automatically reorder parts and supplies, and allow instant voice and video access?
Full Speed Ahead (If You’re Ready)
Instituting organizational change is often slow, and decision-makers traditionally operate under ‘proceed with caution’ parameters. But Ethernet has been used for real-time control since 2000.
Today, it is the preferred technology for everything from printing out the daily schedule to executing the most demanding precision motion control applications. It’s also much more robust and forgiving than its fieldbus predecessors, because it provides performance, capacity, redundancy and expansion.
As companies look for the best ways to innovate while surrounded by dramatic changes, a solid communications infrastructure -- one built on reliable, secure and expandable industrial Ethernet -- will help them meet their current and future business goals, protect against external threats and adopt a key enabler for innovation.
Essentially, keeping pace with current industrial networking solutions will not only enable today’s projects to be successful, but pave the way for your future.
Brian Oulton is currently the Director of Marketing, Industrial Vertical in the Global Sales and Marketing Group at Belden Inc. In this role, Brian provides leadership for Belden’s global strategy formation and marketing efforts across all brands in the industrial and transportation spaces. His current work includes industrial network infrastructure, industrial Ethernet, security, and wireless.