IEI: Moving Forward with Ethernet Networking

Tuesday, October 11, 2016 @ 03:10 PM gHale

By Gregory Hale
Industrial networking is the focal point of manufacturing automation sector, there is no doubt, but security remains a vital discipline moving forward.

“Now we are seeing network convergence. The capabilities of the devices we are using are developing,” said Jim Laurita, services, training and technology manager at Belden during the opening session Tuesday at Belden’s IEI Design Seminar in Orlando, FL. “Voice, video and data are all on the same networking. We are not just gathering data locally, it is now moving from the plant floor all the way up through the enterprise to the executive suite and therefore it must be understandable.”

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With Ethernet the driver behind networking, Laurita gave quick background on where it started and where it is right now. Dr. Robert Metcalf created Ethernet in 1972 and to say it has changed, would be quite an understatement. Bandwidth has changed from 100 Mbit to 40 Gbit, there is full duplex or bidirectional communication without collisions, switching, prioritization and segmentation via VLANs, Laurita said.

“Ethernet is succeeding because of continuous development and transmission speed has increased and Ethernet is a lower cost, open, non-proprietary solution,” he said. Control automation systems are migrating from proprietary to open standards like serial to Ethernet, Profibus to Profinet, Modbus to Modbus TCP, and Ethernet IP.

Ethernet misconceptions include it being IT-based technology that is plug and play, the physical layer has shielded cable, the network security is physically isolated, switch selection, redundancy methods/topologies and physically ruggedized switches and routers.

After giving a brief breakdown on Ethernet, Laurita went into a long discussion how to design a network in a greenfield plant.

By using a simple example, he wanted to show what a user has to look for in designing a network.

He wanted to show users need to determine critical user requirements, how to design the network, how the network can all come together and how to give users more than they expected.

When creating a network, users should look at:
• Cabling standards and performance
• Harsh environment
• Resilient and highly available
• Segmentation
• Institutional Ethernet protocols
• Convergent networking
• Wireless
• Security
• Network management

While all aspects remain vital to developing a network, in the end if security is not built in, then the potential for an intruder to get in, or accidental or malicious insiders to creating more unplanned downtime increases.

In Laurita’s example, he was talking about security at the Level 2 switches, Level 3 switches, creating a security policy and firewalls.

The reason why anyone wants to add security in is to avoid accidental damage, malicious damage, viruses, commercial espionage and program updates, he said.

In short, industrial Ethernet is more than just a physical ruggedization of IT equipment or block diagrams with lines. Users need to determine the applications, now and in the future, and focus on total lifecycle and cost of ownership. They also have to understand designing and industrial network requires cross collaboration from multiple disciplines. Also, a well-designed network will result in the highest level of availability and scalability in the future.