When it comes to industrial networks understanding all the terms, technologies, and acronyms that are used can be overwhelming for those new to this industry. Not to be confused with IT networks, OT networks are what we are interested in, which refer to operational technology networks. This is the infrastructure that our industrial communication systems are built on. OT is more focused on actual devices in the field that interact with the real world. While OT and IT networks are often separate, they often have some level of connection between, and the more each side of the fence understands from the other the chances of enhanced performance for both increases.
Not long after talking with an OT engineer, you’ll hear them talk about switches and routers. So, what are they talking about? In simple terms, switches and routers manage the exchange of data. The switch has the capability to manage a local area network (LAN) or be part of a wider network. A LAN method breaks up large processes into more manageable communication segments. Speed of operation being of high importance in industrial manufacturing, switches need to be specified to meet the timing needs of your process. Routers bridge the LAN’s defined by the switches together into a larger network and allow communication into the business unit or larger exchanges of data.
Now that you have the switches and routers in place you need to have a means of connecting them to move data. This is primarily achieved by ethernet cable. There are many variants of Ethernet media to meet operational specifications. These are often in consideration to electrical noise, ambient temperature or local chemistry to name a few. Along with considering connection requirements, it is also critical to define your network as being managed or managed, with respect to the network switch. A managed switch is just how it sounds – the user can manage and direct network traffic in a specific, defined method.
As with any project, having a well thought out, defined plan of action is key here. From defining which communication technologies, you will employ to mapping out the physical infrastructure of your network, having a solid plan of implementation will ensure that your industrial network is primed for success.