Rockwell and Cisco back network integration via standard Ethernet technology

Optimizing network integration across the factory floor and throughout the enterprise using standard Ethernet technology brings IT standards onto the plant floor, and is an expressed goal of a growing number of manufacturers. Taking measured steps to help them achieve that goal, Rockwell Automation—a global provider of power, control, and information solutions—and networking solutio...
By Jim Fulcher, contributing editor (jimfulcher@comcast.net) April 1, 2008

Optimizing network integration across the factory floor and throughout the enterprise using standard Ethernet technology brings IT standards onto the plant floor, and is an expressed goal of a growing number of manufacturers.

Taking measured steps to help them achieve that goal, Rockwell Automation —a global provider of power, control, and information solutions—and networking solutions supplier Cisco Systems last year announced plans to collaborate on a common technology view, and build reference architectures using standard networking technologies such as EtherNet/IP.

Since then, the companies have made considerable progress. Among the developments, the two vendors have released resources for reference architectures for the manufacturing environment that include detailed designs and best-practices implementation guidance for a plantwide or enterprisewide architecture.

They also bring together relevant applications, contemporary technologies, and design principles that decrease implementation costs and eliminate some of the guesswork related to deploying technology in manufacturing environments.

“There is a critical need for education designed to bridge the cultural gap between IT and manufacturing.”

—Gregory Wilcox, business development manager for networks, Rockwell Automation

Equally important, however, leadership at both companies recognizes that integration of network standards also requires a mutual understanding of the issues and challenges facing both IT and manufacturing, says Gregory Wilcox, business development manager for networks, Rockwell Automation.

According to customer feedback, establishing communication between the two departments is vital to better understanding potential risks for each and, ultimately, to successful network integration, says Wilcox.

“Our customers understand the value of this technology convergence, but they also tell us there is a critical need for education designed to bridge the cultural gap between IT and manufacturing,” he says.

Rockwell and Cisco are answering the call with Webcasts, seminars, and presentations. As part of an ongoing education series, the companies recently presented a Webcast, What Every IT Professional Should Know about Plant-Floor Networking .

Next up in the series— What Every Plant-Floor Controls Engineer Should Know about Working with IT —is scheduled for April 16.

“Feedback from customers has been positive,” Wilcox says. “It validates that we’re taking the right approach with the reference architecture, design implementation guides, and education series.”