Today, Industrial networks are tasked with moving huge amounts of data, include process critical items, at a staggering pace. So how do you know if you have a safe, well-designed network or if you are at risk? A great place to begin is with an industrial network assessment. Cataloging devices is important and most of the time the IT equipment is not documented.
In industrial environments, production can determine networking needs regarding the OT network. If ports are needed or cables routed this is typically done on the fly without consideration of the overall network design. This is where our technicians have experienced residential grade devices in industrial environments. While production they got things moving in the short term, it was not the best decisions for the long run and the overall integrity of the industrial network.
Analyzing your components is a process that can’t be skipped. The physical medium is important to get right, and you must consider the environment in the facility to ensure you get the correct type of jacketing. It’s not uncommon to see networking cabling running with high voltage power cables. This can be done but you need to ensure the right type of cables to be selected particularly in those circumstances.
Bandwidth should be considered when selecting cabling. CAT5 is often not capable to handle the large amounts of data that industrial networks are moving on a regular basis. When you think about data, you have more processing power in your smart phone than the computers that operated at NASA on missions such as Challenger. That helps give a perspective of how much things have evolved and how big data can become. Gauge of wire, tighter twisting to prevent cross talk, shielding & plastic barriers are all items that are evolving to account for the speeds that are needed in industry now. We have seen up to CAT 8 in industry and this is where EECO sees things evolving.
When evaluating industrial networks, you must look at the following:
- Hardware. Bottom line – is the equipment installed built to handle the heat? The ambient temperature can rise to 40-50 C and basic switches and hubs are not designed for that environment.
- Hubs repeat the information from each port which creates big blasts on the network and should be limited within an industrial network.
- Switches, on the other hand, are intelligent and can determine where exactly data is routed which is much more efficient; however, all switches are not industrial rated.
- Connection points and the types of connectors are important when you enter the industrial environment.
- Vibration can play a factor in switch selection and going with the right grade of switch and connection type will yield much better results (M12 type connections).
- Latency is the processing of information from one node to another. Jitter is the difference between that same timeframe (inconsistency). Motion and safety are important to industrial processes. If we can’t process the information fast enough, we can’t maintain standard if we don’t have the information available when we need it.
- Topology design is another area that should be considered with your network. Defining the backbone is important. Star, linear, mesh and ring are all topology designs that should be considered. There isn’t a clear front winner but depending on the application, speed requirements and overall budget will determine the type of topology that should be constructed within the industrial network to yield the best performance.
- Security is a big concern when it comes to industrial networks. A typical way that networks can be compromised is when an unauthorized user plugs their device directly into the network. This could be as simple as a worker that wants to stream music or videos from their personal device. Once plugged into the network the risk is very real to harming the network. So how do you protect from these types of events? Physical level protection is a great place to start. If you remove the ability of unauthorized users to access open ports the threat goes away. You should also establish policies that block users. Internally to the switches there are options to enhance security. Security is a large topic and one that we plan to explore further in future information provided.
CPwE (converged plant wide ethernet) is a great resource if you are involved with designing networks and industrial standards. CPwE converges the OT and IT side while maintaining security, integrity and availability to the network. A great way to get started with understanding your industrial network is by performing a network assessment. Like many things in life, you must know where you are to know where you can go. Once this is done then you can throw many of the items we covered here to improving and enhancing your industrial network.