Industrial Ethernet considerations and advice

Best practices: Industrial Ethernet protocols should allow and promote industrial functions, easy connectivity, and use, and integration with other networks, including legacy networks. Consider this advice.

By Michael Bowne May 9, 2019

When selecting an industrial Ethernet protocol for an automation application, consider its ability to co-exist with other protocols, integrate with legacy networks, and offer flexible topologies. Also, it is often advisable to use managed switches, rather than unmanaged (or you will wish you had).

Ethernet selection advice

Industrial Ethernet protocols should:

  • Use an open industrial Ethernet standard that leverages standard unmodified Ethernet while maintaining high performance and the ability to integrate functional safety, motion, energy management, and redundancy.
  • Allow for high-speed control and traffic that coexists with other protocols, which is the future for industrial networking. As we move into the Industrie 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) realm, more information is being provided to higher-level systems. An industrial Ethernet network that plays nicely with other protocols offers a measure of future-proofing.
  • Promote the right tool for the right task. Industrial Ethernet should relay plant data with high speed and efficiency. Other protocols, such as the OPC Foundation’s Unified Architecture (OPC UA), hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), and others, may connect to manufacturing execution systems (MES), enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, analytics, or cloud architectures. Advanced connectivity creates an infrastructure for the future.
  • Have standardized means and methods to integrate legacy fieldbuses (proxies). If the protocol’s specification predetermines how data is brought into the network via proxy, the transition will be smooth.
  • Allow for any type of topology, such as line, tree, star, wireless, fiber, and ring. (See figure.)
  • Work with either managed or unmanaged switches. Using managed Ethernet switches, however, can improve network performance, diagnostics, cybersecurity and modular network design.
  • Facilitate uptime by allowing for various diagnostic types and tools. Network diagnostics include three general types: device related, network related, and process related. The error message generated should be standardized so diagnostic information can be extracted independently of the tool used. The tool might be the engineering system, a dedicated diagnostic tool, or a web browser.
  • Support plug-and-play device replacement to automatically resuming operation thereby reducing downtime and related costs.

Michael Bowne is executive director for PI North America, which represents Profibus device protocol and Profinet Ethernet protocol in North America. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,


KEYWORDS: Industrial Ethernet, Ethernet selection

Industrial Ethernet may integrate motion, safety and energy management capabilities.

Easy connections and coexistence is helpful in industrial Ethernet.

Topological flexibility helps with industrial Ethernet network design.

Consider this

When specifying an automation network, do you consider functionality?


PI North America is a member-supported, non-profit organization based in Scottsdale, Ariz. Members include vendors of hardware, software and systems; end users; operators; scientific institutes; universities; distributors and system integrators.

Find more advice in “The 7 Step Industrial Ethernet Checklist” from PI North America.

Author Bio: Michael Bowne is executive director, PI North America, the organization for Profinet, Profibus, and other networking technologies.