Ethernet vs Industrial Ethernet: How Are They Different?
May 23, 2019 12:21
As people interconnect their factories and industrial sites, creating internal networks or just wiring them up to the internet, cables become more important. Ethernet cables are going to become more common, with designs that allow all of the equipment and systems work in unison. However, consumer-grade ethernet cables aren't the same as the big industrial ones.
Just what are the differences between the two? If you were someone who has no idea, how would you check for a communications cable manufacturer who had industrial ethernet equipment? What are the standards for industrial networks? All these things and more are integral if you intend to build a smart factory, so let's break down just what differentiates the two.
Let's look at how they're similar first. They both perform the same function, which is to connect multiple devices together into a network. The network might be intended to allow for internal sharing of files and access to systems, or it might be meant to hook everything into the internet. While there are numerous purposes that such a network might fulfill, the core function remains the same and other things are just benefits.
Industrial Networks Are More Robust
Industrial Ethernet is more robust. Streams of data are broken up into shorter frames, each part containing specific data. These include things lie sources and destinations of the data itself. This data is what allows the network to accept and send information as required, basically forming the core of the network's function.
Important terminology in this area includes medium, segment, and node. A node is a device that attaches to a segment. A segment, in turn, is a single shared medium. A medium is a twisted pair or fiber optic cable, connecting devices together and providing a path for data transmission.
Standard ethernet speeds are in the range of 10Mbps to 100Mbps. Industrial protocols like PROFINET and EtherCAT modify the standard in a way that ensures the data used in a manufacturing context is sent correctly and received on time. Any delays that occur due to lower standards used in commercial ethernet isn't allowed.
Industrial protocols are also designed to send and receive data on time when the data is required for specific operations and actions. The network must be able to send the filling data of a bottle filling plant over it, checking to make sure all the bottles are being filled according to the specifications of the company. When the bottle is full, the command is sent to stop it. In other words, the commands must be sent in real-time.
In an office or home setting, a message like that is not as critical. These scenarios have looser standards and more flexibility, which is a luxury that an industrial scenario can't afford. An error must be noticed and handled automatically, rather than waiting for someone to notice and press a button. The automation must operate in real-time, preventing a dip in productivity, a loss of product, and a waste of time as opportunity cost.
Built for Harsher Environments
Heavy-duty environments are also a difference between industrial and consumer ethernet cables. Industrial requirements impose better resistance to things like handle factory noise, accommodating manufacturing processes, and the ability to withstand much harsher environments. There must also be an ability to better handle and minimize data collisions that are more likely to be common issues in a factory environment.
Connectors are also different for industrial cables. The snap-in locks aren't going to be present, instead replaced with something that is heavier and built to withstand more damage and rougher treatment. Sealed connectors are also more common, often even required in heavy-duty applications and situations. This is all to avoid the risk of the cables being disconnected due to conditions on the factory floor.
Even light duty industrial cables often have better-quality jacketing than their commercial counterparts. The jackets are designed for harsher conditions, with the metal also of higher quality to improve durability.
There is also determinism, which isn't typical to commercial ethernet applications. Industrial networks require deterministic standards, need the data packets sent and received at specific times. There must be a guarantee that this data is sent and received each and every time, on schedule and accurately.
Any loss of data is a problem in an industrial network because it could result in flaws in the manufacturing process or errors in the production. The transfer should be reliable, to allow the systems to operate accurately and efficiently. They can't afford any delay or lost data or any errors in what is transmitted. These errors can cause problems, whether immediately or over time.
Industrial Ethernet systems are tougher, built for harsher environments, and adhere to much higher standards. The needs of a factory floor or other manufacturing facility are different from ones that you'll find in an office or home network. Making the mistake of using consumer-grade cables for an industrial facility can cost a factory time and money in short order.
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