In some factories where just a fraction of time offline can wreak havoc on the bottom line, diagnostic insight into how your network is running is invaluable.
Hardware, such as connections and switches, is critical. Too many industrial environments are ripe with standard office hardware.
For years, the unmanaged switch has been the mainstay of industrial automation. But with the rise of smart manufacturing and real-time data, it’s imperative that manufacturers understand the true capabilities and importance of managed industrial Ethernet switches.
According to an HIS study, estimated growth for industrial Ethernet products, which include gateways, switches, routers, wireless access points and connectors, is set at an 8.6 percent annual compound from 2013 to 2018.
Historically, manufacturers have gone with unmanaged switches based on price point, and over time often suffer the consequences. When it comes to switches, “it’s like the Wild Wild West,” says EECO Product Manager Russ Jones. “Hey, there’s an empty port, let’s plug into it!” Ultimately, it always works until it doesn’t, leading to unwanted, unplanned downtime.
Managed switches are a critical component of a fully integrated, connected factory of the future. Inevitably, as you add more and more smart devices to your network it will be important to foresee and manage any potential debilitating congestion. Managed Ethernet switches offer real-time control of information flow throughout the entire network.
Unlike unmanaged switches, which are plug-and-play devices that don’t offer control of network messaging, the managed switch can be specifically configured to prioritize messaging between ports, or Quality of Service (QoS). If 700 messages show up at the exact same time, which one is the most important? Managed switches allow you to control which messages need the most attention. Thus, the managed switch will direct the priority message based on preset parameters, which increases network performance. This type of control is critical as plant-floor technology moves forward.
Take the Stratix 5410, for example. This managed switch is a robust device with its own processor and that intelligence brings a number of benefits:
- Manual port settings
- Advanced traffic control
- Improved security
- Remote monitoring and management
- Greater robustness and media redundancy
Unlike standard commercial hardware, industrial switches like the 5410 are made to withstand harsh environments. Network switches are sensitive to extreme temperatures. Take a meat or poultry factory, for example. Most likely the plant is relatively cold. A cold environment can affect the cables on your switch by making them brittle and susceptible to breakage. Other considerations to note are noise and vibration. In plants with large motors constantly running, data distortions can occur across the network. In this case, the managed switch will allow you to set custom data rates for each port.
Diagnostically, managed switches receive statistical information on a port-by-port basis, including type and number of messages received and transmitted, errors, switch configuration, switch status, etc. All of this invaluable information can be accessed via SNMP or in the case of the 5410, from a standard web browser anytime, anywhere.
These advanced diagnostic functions of the switch give visibility into the entire network system without cumbersome port analysis. And, the user-friendly Stratix switch, which uses Cisco technology, was designed to speak the language of all factory workers – not just IT experts and programmers. And, the switch seamlessly integrates into the Rockwell Logix Platform using a simple add-on profile.
While generally more expensive than unmanaged switches, in the same IHS report on the market for industrial Ethernet infrastructure components, IHS said: “This trend may, in the longer term, see the demise of the unmanaged switch as the prices converge, much in the way the hub has become all but extinct.”
No matter which direction your smart upgrades may lead, the key place to start your smart manufacturing journey is with your industrial communication network.
 Ethernet components market continues to expand