The next big thing in plant communication networks
Communications networks are viewed like highways. We need them, but who really thinks about them? Not viewing communication networks as strategically important to plant operations, however, closes off conceptually a whole new world of automation capabilities and effectiveness.
In the 1950s, there were numerous roadways, and commerce thrived in the United States. Not being satisfied with the status quo , President Dwight Eisenhower led the effort to establish the Interstate highway system. In effect, Eisenhower created a bigger commercial pipeline for the U.S. The U.S. is a different country today because of the Interstate highways. Who would have predicted in the 1950s that the inventory of American manufacturers would be rolling along carried on semis? With the interstates %%MDASSML%% the bigger pipelines %%MDASSML%% commerce and society changed.
A similar situation exists between the networking status quo and new possibilities on the horizon. Most industrial Ethernet communication networks are now up to 100 Mbps throughput %%MDASSML%% an unheard of capability only a few years ago. But who would choose to drive 10 mph when you could easily and safely travel at 10 times that speed? Who would choose to drive on a two-lane roadway when 12 lane super highways are available?
The equivalent of 100 mph and 12-lane highways are now becoming possible for industrial communication networks. The next generation of industrial Ethernet communications networks will be 1 Gbps bandwidth %%MDASSML%% 10 times faster than today’s 100 Mbps. What will this ten-fold expansion in bandwidth mean for plant operations?
With 1 Gbps bandwidth, there will be not only enough speed for automation control, but also practically unlimited data acquisition potential for traceability of manufacturing information, for manufacturing process improvement and for equipment maintenance %%MDASSML%% both monitoring and failure detection. Essentially, there will be no bandwidth tradeoffs. Every bit of information needed to control, understand, predict, react and proactively change production will be available at all points in the plant, at all times.
More than speed, bandwidth
The new generation of industrial Ethernet 1 Gbps communication will not require costly switches or the expertise of highly trained IT or Ethernet technology personnel as do the industrial Ethernet networks of today. Advances will mean that commercially available Ethernet cable, connectors and simple hubs will be standard at the device level for 1 Gbps operation. Basically, these higher value systems will easily be maintained by plant personnel.
The new generation communication networks will also feature flexible topologies. Plant personnel will be able to configure the communication network in the way most appropriate to the layout of the manufacturing operation, making it easy to add hardware to the network as new needs come on line. There will also be plug-and-play capability, combining 1 Gbps with 100 Mbps networks.
The new communication systems will be seamless both horizontally and vertically throughout the enterprise from field networks to controllers to MES systems. On the floor, integrated 1 Gbps safety and motion networks will be available.
The exciting prospect about the next generation of communication networks is that we can’t totally predict all the ways they will change our ability to manufacture and process products. We will have to see them in operation before we can completely understand everything the new networks will allow us to do.
Plant operations personnel must not sit back and take communications networks for granted. Plant engineering must stay focused on the fact that communication networks are the infrastructure of the future, similar to what the new Interstate systems were to the U.S. in the 1950s. If we ignore this fact, or simply go with the control vendor’s default solution without considering other options, then we could be putting ourselves at a competitive disadvantage.
Open CC-Link networking technology is managed by the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA), with offices in the U.S., UK, Germany, Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. The organization has developed 1 Gbps industrial Ethernet protocols. For more information, visit www.cclinkamerica.org .