Optimize cable’s role in the Industrial Internet of Things

Cover story: Internet of Things (IoT) is influencing the future of industrial automation with continuing convergence of information, automation, and operations systems (OS) in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). With faster Ethernet speeds, cabling system integrity is more important, and cabling certification can help.


With heavier network loads anticipated with Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cable certification is becoming more important. Certifying a cable requires advanced testers that can adapt to rapidly changing standards. Each test can collect nearly 200,0Industrial automation will soon make up the majority of the installation base for devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT). With forecasts of more than 60 billion Internet-connected devices within the next 10 years, the importance of industrial Ethernet is becoming more apparent. This is part of the June Control Engineering cover story on Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things to help make smarter factories.

For factory, industrial, and plant professionals, the on-going convergence of information and automation and operations technologies ultimately leads to more efficient communications, which can decrease labor costs and improve supply chain management. As the industrial channel continues to adopt the IoT concept, faster machines requiring more bandwidth are necessary.

Ethernet media with a variety of industrial protocols is the primary method for networking future IIoT initiatives. More facility managers are replacing fieldbuses with Ethernet entirely in an effort to accommodate the IIoT. With more connected devices and more information being transmitted, more is demanded of network cabling resulting in a greater impact if commissioning is delayed, or transmission is unreliable.

Cabling standards

Key organizations that govern standards for cabling include the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and each is gearing up for faster speeds.

Increasing network frequencies mean impedance, crosstalk, and other parameters are more critical. More care will be required when choosing media vendors and cable installers.

The evolution of the TIA 568 cabling standards illustrates the rise in speeds as a result of increased demands on networks. While Category-5e cable (100 MHz) is common, increasingly Cat-6 (250 MHz) and -6A (500 MHz) are being installed in industrial applications. Category-8 cable (2,000 MHz), which will be widely used by data center applications, is currently in draft mode and is expected to be finalized as a new standard.

Smarter, faster factories

To accommodate the increase of IIoT devices coming online, factory automation systems need to adapt. The latest control systems have the ability to promote greater interoperability on the factory floor, providing more flexibility, faster response, better real-time data, and greater control over networked manufacturing equipment. This means physical media must stay ahead of industry standards, as it tends to stay unchanged longer than PCs, servers, etc. When pushing for automation affected by the IoT, cabling system designs and installations are more critical now in an effort to accommodate the higher network speeds of tomorrow.

IIoT increases network needs

Ensuring cabling systems are up to the task of managing all devices and control systems integrated within a factory automation infrastructure is paramount for optimal performance. By adopting efforts made by commercial cable installers, the industrial channel can reduce issues when connecting more devices. In anticipation of a heavier load and stress as a result of the IIoT, certification of all cabling is encouraged. Certifying a cable requires advanced testers that can adapt to rapidly changing standards. Each test can collect nearly 200,000 data measurements including resistance, crosstalk, return loss, and propagation delay.

The future of industrial automation is clearly affected by the IoT. With increased Ethernet speed, cabling systems become more important. By first ensuring the cabling is certified, the IIoT can be more effectively optimized.

- Mark Knebusch is the vice president of marketing for Softing Inc.; edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com

Key concepts

  • Greater emphasis on IIoT increases the need for reliable networks.
  • Standards and cable testing can help increase reliability.

Consider this

Can your networks handle anticipated increases in information flow related to IIoT optimization? 

ONLINE extra

See "Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 webcast: Overview and practical advice for today." 

More about Softing

Softing Inc. is a provider of industrial communication products and technologies for manufacturing and process automation. Mark Knebusch is vice president of marketing for Softing, in Knoxville, Tenn. In May 2014, Softing AG acquired Online Development Inc. (OLDI), www.softing.us.

Click here for more information from the Industry 4.0 and IIoT June Control Engineering cover story.

Anonymous , 07/26/15 11:04 PM:

I personally believe the importance of Ethernet cannot be overstated. I am also excited about the millions and billions of sensors that will be deployed in plants and all the benefits they will bring in terms of improved reliability and maintenance, energy efficiency, HS&E, and productivity. However, I don’t believe these sensors and actuators will use Ethernet, at least not in its present form. I am pretty sure these millions and billions of sensors and actuators will use other networking technologies. Certainly Ethernet will also grow at the higher level because the sensor and actuator networks ultimately have an Ethernet backhaul at some point.

Plants are not replacing fieldbuses with Ethernet. The fieldbuses are still in place. Certainly many new plants are using Ethernet instead of SOME fieldbuses but not all. It is important to realize the difference between “H1” fieldbuses such as IO-link, CompoNet, ASI, FOUNDATION fieldbus, PROFIBUS-PA, and WirelessHART on the one hand, and “H2” fieldbuses like PROFIBUS-DP, Modbus/RTU, and DeviceNet on the other hand. Ethernet is making inroads into the “H2” level of fieldbuses were we often see PROFINET, Modbus/TCP, and EtherNet/IP being deployed instead of their respective fieldbus counterparts. However, there is no sign of Ethernet being used in place of “H1” fieldbuses. Indeed what we see is H1 fieldbuses taking the place of 4-20 mA and on-off signals. Ethernet is just not suitable for taking the place of H1 fieldbuses or 4-20 mA. There is no sign of Ethernet in pressure, temperature, and level transmitters as well as control valves etc. Indeed H1 fieldbuses like IO-link and CompoNet were created AFTER their respective PROFINET and EtherNet/IP to complement for networking at the sensor and actuator level.

So why is Ethernet not used in sensors and actuators? Ethernet over copper cable is limited to 100 m while most plants are much larger. Ethernet switches and fiber optic converters in the field junction box would require power to be supplied. Ethernet devices from different vendors using the same application protocol have different register assignment requiring system reconfiguration for device replacement. Ethernet wires are fragile not using simple screw terminals, and fiber optics requires special skills. Ethernet switches have comparatively short MTBF. There are no standard entity parameters defined for Ethernet switches and devices making compatibility and interchangeability a challenge. Fiber optic components meeting the IEC 60079-28 hazardous area requirements for irradiance are rare. Ethernet grounding would require equipotential bonding throughout the plant. Industrially hardened intrinsically safe Ethernet switches are expensive. Industrial grade shielded Ethernet cable is expensive. Instrument technicians would have to be able to master IP address setting, subnet, gateway address for each device as well as cyber security products like firewalls and procedure for passwords, certificates, and firmware patching. Dependencies between the IT and I&C departments are created. Replacing devices in hazardous areas is cumbersome if the installation is not intrinsically safe, Field work with a laptop is clunky compared to a handheld.

H1 protocols like FOUNDATION fieldbus designed specifically for sensor and actuator overcome these issues. That is, H1 fieldbus and Ethernet complement each other in the plant just like USB and Ethernet at home and in the office

There are attempts to overcome all these weaknesses of Ethernet in the field to breed a hybrid of Ethernet and Fieldbus - an "Etherbus" if you will:
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