Ethernet certification can identify cabling issues, prepare for IIoT

Machines today are connected via Ethernet, which allow manufacturers to network their industrial automation and control systems and connect their plant production and business systems.


Often overlooked by plant managers, industrial Ethernet certification is vital to overall efficiency and can mean the difference between optimized productivity and less-than-robust performance. Machines today are connected via Ethernet, allowing manufacturers to network their industrial automation and control systems and connect their plant production and business systems.

Ethernet cabling in manufacturing

An increasing number of devices are being connected via Ethernet as part of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). It is projected that by 2025 there will be about 50 billion Internet-connected devices installed in industrial applications.

As this occurs, the need for increased speed and bandwidth of the associated industrial Ethernet networks has risen. Gigabit Ethernet is emerging, and there is talk of 10-gigabit Ethernet soon entering the plant. As speed increases, the quality and integrity of the physical media becomes more important. Impedance and crosstalk between pairs rises, while signal-to-noise ratios tighten.

Operations technology (OT) is converging with information technology (IT) with enterprise big data that will soon require higher speeds). To prepare for this IT-OT convergence, plant managers are encouraged to ensure their Ethernet and cabling is certified to promote longevity and reliability.

Why certify?

Approximately 35% of total failures in plant automation are attributed to physical-layer failures, such as cabling. Physical deterioration, electrical failure, or poor installation and maintenance can all lead to unreliable network performance, as well as loss of critical data, system downtime, or even catastrophic, overall failure.

When installing cabling for industrial Ethernet applications, you can no longer simply assume it is going to work. To reduce start-up problems and minimize future downtime, it is encouraged to not only ensure cable is installed properly, but also to have it configured, tested, and certified.

Some of the most common mishaps when installing cabling for industrial applications involve the cable itself—whether it's too close to other cables or electrical equipment, crushed, kinked, too long, defective, or its bend radius is exceeded. The majority of these issues can essentially be fixed with proper certification, as cable certification ensures the cable infrastructure meets standards for quality and speed.

Certification is relatively common in commercial sectors but less so in the industrial space. With a significant number of industrial network problems related to cabling issues, testing can reduce the amount of finger-pointing when network problems arise and, for many cabling and network infrastructure vendors, certification is a requirement for warranties.

Cable certification

With the importance of cable certification for plant manufacturing in mind, it is relevant to understand that not all certifiers are created equal. Cable-certification test parameters include loop resistance, return loss, propagation delay, and cable length. If these parameters are out of specification, the risk of communication failure can increase. For operating convenience, look for a certifier that can be operated at either the local or remote unit to reduce unnecessary work for technicians and plant-floor workers.

Legacy industrial installations have used M12 two-pair cabling, but newer installations are switching to four-pair cabling. It is recommended to find a certifier that can handle both. Test configurations tend to be specific to industrial Ethernet as well as the industrial automation space, with some of the most popular including RJ45 to M12, RJ45 to RJ45, and M12 to M12 cable. The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) for frequency bandwidth also regulates each of these variations.

As of now, the most common TIA standard for cabling is Category 5e (up to 100MHz), but CAT-6 (250MHz) and CAT-6A (500MHz) are increasingly being used in industrial installations. It is important to make sure your certifier can support the higher standards of today, as well as the future. While CAT-6A is in practice now, CAT-8 (2,000MHz) is in draft mode. CAT-8 applications are expected in areas such as data centers, however, and not on the plant floor. When selecting a certifier, it is important to place versatility as a top priority and to look for a wide variety of adapters including the copper connections listed above. It is also suggested to seek single- and multi-mode fiber, as well as those for specialty tests such as patch-cord testing.

Mark Knebusch is the vice president of marketing for Softing Inc., a leading provider of industrial communication products and technologies for manufacturing and process automation. He is based in Knoxville, Tenn., and can be reached at

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
October 2018
Tools vs. sensors, functional safety, compressor rental, an operational network of maintenance and safety
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
October 2018
2018 Product of the Year; Subsurface data methodologies; Digital twins; Well lifecycle data
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
October 2018
Complex upgrades for system integrators; Process control safety and compliance
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me