Industrial networking refers to the use of networking technologies and protocols to connect industrial devices and systems, such as sensors, controllers and other equipment, to facilitate communication and data exchange. Examples of industrial networking technologies include Ethernet, fieldbuses, device networks and various wireless networking technologies, using standards and/or proprietary physical designs and protocols.
Industrial Networking Articles
Industrial networking enables IT, OT integration, benefits
As vehicles add technologies, ecosystems of self-aware autonomous vehicles will interact. Autonomous vehicles will optimize routes, processes and directions with little to no human interaction. Application shows advantages for other rugged and industrial applications.
- A strategic plan for IT/OT integration helps Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) implementation and optimization.
- Ethernet evolves beyond fieldbus for automotive and industrial communications.
- Industrial Ethernet applications for industrial autonomous vehicles; see example.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 technologies have been the driving forces behind the smart digital revolution underway in industrial manufacturing. The introduction of advanced networking technologies, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) has opened the door to a new type of operational intelligence.
However, companies integrating into the smart digital revolution often run into problems. Integrating IIoT and Industry 4.0 intelligence involves converging information technology (IT) and operational technologies (OT) networks that have been separated and operate in fundamentally different ways.
Industrial network integration challenges
IT system operations often involved standardization of hardware and software platforms focused on the user’s experience and privacy. OT system operations often focuses on the functionality of machinery that operates using individual controls and processes. Converging these two networks can be beneficial when done correctly and can have long-lasting unwanted effects if not properly integrated.
While many companies have had tremendous success with IT and OT network integration, there have been many known to fail. The reality is, upgrading to a smart factory or plant from a traditional environment can be a long and arduous process, filled with costly setbacks, delays, and uncertainty in the newly-converged network.
A strategic plan for IT and OT network integration
It has been said “the best defense is a great offense.” In the world of integration, the best way to avoid failure is through strategic planning, collaboration, and validation. Undoubtedly the best tool for the integration process is a strategic plan. A well thought-out and strategic plan will save time, resources, and will make the convergence of IT and OT networks a much easier process.
A strategic plan should be unique to the network. It should include specialty items and configuration requirements specific to networking needs. However, in addition to the strategic plan, include the following underlying principles. They can help guide users through your integration process.
Basic integration principles can help IT, OT integration
The success or failure of an implementation will often be determined by the level of organization and planning for the network integration.
Bus networks are often used for in-vehicle communication protocols with the controller area network (CAN) being the most common. CAN bus is a lightweight multi-master serial protocol that combines multiple engine control units (ECUs), forming a backbone that allows centralized communications. In vehicles, the style of networking is ideal for critical systems such as anti-lock braking systems (ABS), throttle and steering controls.
Beside CAN, several other bus protocols are used in vehicle communications. Each protocol follows a version of the International Organization for Standards (ISO 11898 and ISO 8802) designated for roadside vehicles. Each protocol has its own bandwidth limits and special purpose use.
Some of the more popular bus protocols are:
- Local interconnect network (LIN): Primarily used in small motor applications such as door mirrors, sunroof controls and seat positioning systems.
- SAE J1939: Designed for heavy machinery, tractors, agriculture and forestry.
- Controller area network (CAN): The most common communication system for vehicle intercommunication. CAN allows multiple microcontrollers and ECUs to communicate with each other in real time.
- Controller area network flexible data-range (CAN FD): Extended version of the CAN protocol. Allows larger data transmissions with increasing payloads from 8bit to 64bit.
- Flex ray: Uses two independent data channels for fault-tolerance.
- Media oriented systems transport (MOST): Used for infotainment and multimedia network technology, and can be configured in a daisy chain or ring topology.
Beyond fieldbus, Ethernet evolves for automotive communications
Bus technologies have been critical for in-vehicle communications. However, as the automotive industry evolved, and emerging technologies were beginning to migrate into newer vehicles, bus systems were inadequate and couldn’t support the bandwidth requirements for these new technologies. A protocol was needed that could handle the data being generated from the large number of connected ECU’s while still providing room for growth and scalability for future technologies. Ethernet would be the one to take its place.
Ethernet provided the bandwidth needed for applications such as lidar, radar, GPS, emergency braking detection, collision warning, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technologies and many more. The flexibility of Ethernet plus its ability to scale for data transmissions more than 10 GB made it ideal for the vehicle industry. Ethernet also has a proven track record of success in enterprise, as well as industrial networking environments using various protocols and industry standards for managing data.
Advantages of Ethernet for industrial applications
Another major advantage of Ethernet is its flexibility of how it can be configured in various ways. It also supports a wide variety of data management tools that can be configured to optimize flow data inside of networks.
Typical Ethernet data management configurations include:
- Topologies: Ethernet can be configured in a star, mesh, ring, bus or tree topology to support traffic flow and provide redundancy for vehicle networks.
- Virtual local area network (VLAN): VLANs use identifiers known as IEEE 802.1q tags to segment a network into small subnetworks or virtual LAN segments. These VLANs are then used to logically group physically connected or physically separated network devices into smaller subnetworks.
- Quality of service (QoS): QoS is used to manage data traffic and ensure the performance of critical applications by setting prioritization specific high-performance applications.
Open Systems Interconnections (OSI) Model: 7 OSI layers
Standard Ethernet operates using Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) to process data. Before the TCP/IP protocol was adopted in the 1970s and early 1980s, the 7-layer open systems interconnections (OSI) model was used as the protocol standard. With the Ethernet protocol, the OSI model is still used, and the layers are:
- Layer 1 – Physical: The physical layer defines the physical connection to the network. This can range from cable types, radio frequency link (IEEE 802.11 wireless specifications) pin layout, voltage and connectors.
- Layer 2 – Data link: The data link layer provides synchronization and error correction from the physical layer. There are two sublayers – Media Access Control (MAC) and Logical Link Control (LLC). A majority of switches operate at this level including ECUs and microprocessors.
Bus technologies including CAN, LIN etc. operate at the layer 1 and 2 level of the IOS model.
- Layer 3 – Network: The network layer performs network IP routing functions.
- Layer 4 – Transport: The transport layer provides data transfer protocols such as a TCP/UDP connection and connectionless communications.
- Layer 5 – Session layer: The session layer establishes, manages, and terminates the connections between cooperating applications.
- Layer 6 – Presentation: The presentation layer defines data compression and encryption.
- Layer 7- Application: The application layer specifies how application programs access the network such as email, web browsers and games.
Figure 1: Before the TCP/IP protocol was adopted in the 1970s and early 1980s, the 7-layer Open Systems Interconnections (OSI) model was used as the protocol standard. With the Ethernet protocol, the OSI model is still used. Courtesy: Antaira
Industrial Ethernet applications for industrial autonomous vehicles
While Ethernet has improved the driver experience for commercial and passenger vehicles, the technology has opened the doors for tremendous growth in industrial applications. The combination of technologies such as Ethernet, robotics, and AI has had a large impact on autonomous vehicles, specifically industrial autonomous vehicles (IAVs). Today’s IAVs take the best pieces of technology and add additional layers of functionality not typically found in automobiles. They’re customized machines designed for a specific purpose or a specific industry. These machines can include robotic arms, liftgates, hydraulic platforms, cutting tools and can be manipulated by remote pilots from the other side of the world. IAVs are commonly found on roadways and in farms, mines, large scale construction sites and locations that can be too hazardous for humans to safely perform duties. In these cases, the standard technology that powers autonomous vehicles (AV) are critical. The same technology that makes AVs operate, gives IAV the power to function at a critical level.
An industrial Ethernet case study: Strawberry harvesting
The agriculture industry, specifically for strawberries, has seen an increase in popularity as more people make healthier diets. Health-conscious consumers are wanting to enjoy more strawberries more often rather than the short time the fruit is in season.
Application challenges: Rising costs of fruit production along with labor shortages have left many strawberry farmers struggling to meet demands.
Application solutions: Through use of agricultural robotics, machine vision, advanced AI technologies and industrial managed Ethernet switches, an agricultural machine manufacturer developed a specialized robotic strawberry harvester that used robotic arms to pick ripe strawberries. This has allowed strawberry farmers to meet consumer demands and overcome the challenges of higher production prices and labor shortages.
Application technical details: As construction of the automated harvester began, engineers knew that internal data communications were going to play a critical role in the strawberry picking process. They decided on an industrial networking switch from a major manufacturer to handle the data traffic. However, during the first phases of testing, the Ethernet switch failed to withstand the agricultural environment and needed to be replaced several times; the strawberry fields were just too demanding for the switch. A provider of industrial Ethernet switches helped resolve the connectivity crisis.
An industrial Ethernet switch was initially supplied, which offered a software management suite that allowed for dynamic IP addressing and data separation via virtual LANs (VLANs). It also came equipped with M12 screw-tight connectors ensuring a tight robust connection to combat long hours of intense vibrations. The IP67 standard of the unit ensured watertight protection against mud, dirt, dust, debris, and the extended temperature rating allowed for uninterrupted communication in severe weather conditions. The unit offered 16-gigabit ports with 2 x 10 gigabit fiber ports for backbone connectivity. The industrial M12 switch was ideal for the internal communication portion of the switch.
However, further testing uncovered the need for a secondary industrial switch to manage the picking aspect of the automated harvester. The harvester was equipped with high-definition cameras for vision inspection and robotic arm sensors that needed a way to communicate with engineers over Ethernet. The strawberry harvester also needed a way to handle the same data traffic requirements as the first industrial managed switch, specifically, with dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP) Option 82, QoS to ensure fault tolerance and redundancy, security, as well as VLAN management. An upgraded industrial switch added 30W of power at each interface.
Industrial switches allowed for the manufacturer to move forward with the final stages of completing the automated strawberry harvesters. The autonomous harvesters now have cutting-edge industrial networking technologies in place and if needed, customized solutions can be created.
Figure 2: Through use of agricultural robotics, machine vision, advanced AI technologies and Antaira’s series of industrial managed Ethernet switches, an agricultural machine manufacturer developed a specialized robotic strawberry harvester that used robotic arms (not shown) to pick ripe strawberries. The switch selected included 30W of available power for other devices, software management suite for dynamic IP addressing and data separation via Virtual LANs (VLANs), and M12 screw-tight connectors ensuring a tight connection. An IP67 rating ensured watertight and dust protection in the application. Courtesy: Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering
The future of industrial autonomous vehicles
The future of IAVs will be an exciting one. Technologies such as 5G and high-speed wireless will open doors for new applications. For passenger and commercial vehicles, an onslaught of augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications will provide real-time notifications on road conditions and weather data.
For the industrial industry, autonomous ecosystems will emerge. Such ecosystems can provide a new framework of cloud-based applications driving fully autonomous “self-aware” vehicles, robotics and various other automated machines. This new level of intelligence will give IAVs the abilities to make their own decisions based on data gathered from other IAVs.
Adding Ethernet to vehicle networks expands opportunities in other industries
Autonomous vehicles are an intricate system of networks that manage communication from basic side mirror adjustments to advanced driverless controls. Originally, in-vehicle communications used a two-wire bus that transported basic communication from microprocessors and controllers to small end points such as sensors and small motors. As more advanced features were introduced into vehicle networks, legacy bus systems were unable to keep up with the bandwidth demands needed for newer technology communication. Vehicle manufactures decided Ethernet was the standard protocol for vehicle communications due to its flexibility and proven success in enterprise and industrial networking environments. Adding Ethernet inside vehicle networks opened the door to opportunities far beyond passenger and commercial vehicles.
Industrial vehicle manufactures took advantage of the opportunities created by Ethernet. It allowed for the creation of specific application vehicles that included autonomous controls, but also robotics, AI, and hydraulic systems. IAVs plow fields, harvest crops and use robotic arms to lift containers.
As more technologies are added to vehicles, whole communities or ecosystems of self-aware autonomous vehicles will interact with each other. Autonomous vehicles will decide on what routes, processes and directions are best while operating with little to no human interaction.
Henry Martel is field applications engineer, Antaira Technologies. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, firstname.lastname@example.org.
KEYWORDS: Industrial networking, IT/OT integration, industrial autonomous vehicles
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Industrial Networking FAQ
What are the different types of industrial networks?
Many networks are used for industrial automation, including industrial networks included in standards, for communication sensors, other devices and actuators and controllers and with other systems. A sampling of these networks, often governed by an organization with automation vendors as members, include:
- Fieldbus: A type of industrial network used to connect sensors, actuators and devices in the field, and to provide communication between the field and control systems.
- Ethernet: A widely used networking technology for industrial applications, providing high-speed data communication and supporting a range of protocols.
- Profibus: A type of fieldbus network widely used in industrial automation, providing high-speed communication and support for real-time control applications.
- Modbus: A type of serial communication protocol widely used in industrial automation, providing communication between devices and control systems.
- DeviceNet: A type of fieldbus network used in industrial automation, providing communication between devices and control systems.
- ControlNet: A type of industrial network used for real-time control applications, providing high-speed communication and support for real-time control.
- CANbus: A type of industrial network used for real-time control applications, providing communication between devices and control systems in harsh industrial environments.
What is the purpose of an industrial network?
The purpose of an industrial network is to provide communication and connectivity between devices and control systems in industrial automation systems. The main functions of an industrial network include:
- Data collection: Collecting and transmitting data from sensors, actuators and other field devices.
- Control and monitoring: Controlling and monitoring the operation of industrial processes and providing real-time data to control systems.
- Data management: Managing and processing data to support decision-making and to provide actionable insights.
- Process optimization: Improving the efficiency and reliability of industrial processes and enabling predictive maintenance and process optimization.
- Integration: Enabling integration of different devices, systems, and technologies, such as robotics, artificial intelligence and the internet of things, to create a connected and intelligent industrial automation system.
How do industrial networks differ from traditional networks?
Industrial networks differ from traditional networks in several ways including:
- Real-time requirements: Industrial networks must support real-time control and monitoring and have a deterministic response time, while traditional networks may not have such strict requirements.
- Environmental conditions: Industrial networks operate in harsh environments, such as factories and power plants, where temperature, vibration, and electrical interference can affect network performance, while traditional networks are typically located in office or data center environments.
- Network topology: Industrial networks may use different network topologies, such as fieldbus networks, which may provide direct communication between devices and control systems, while traditional networks typically use Ethernet or other standard networking technologies.
- Network security: Industrial networks must provide a high level of security to protect against cyber threats; the failure of industrial processes can have serious consequences, while traditional networks may not have such strict security requirements.
- Interoperability: Industrial networks must support interoperability among different devices, systems and technologies, while traditional networks may not have such strict requirements for interoperability.
These differences highlight the unique challenges and requirements of industrial networks and the need for specialized networking technologies and protocols to support the operation of industrial automation systems.
What challenges do industrial networks face?
Industrial networks face a variety of challenges, including:
- Security: Industrial networks are vulnerable to cyber threats such as hacking, malware and unauthorized access.
- Reliability: Industrial networks must be reliable and have high availability to support critical operations and avoid costly downtime.
- Interoperability: Industrial networks must be able to communicate and exchange data with a wide range of devices and systems, including legacy equipment.
- Scalability: Industrial networks must be able to handle increasing amounts of data and expanding numbers of connected devices.
- Network management: Managing and maintaining an industrial network can be complex, requiring specialized knowledge and tools.
- Real-time requirements: Industrial networks must be able to handle real-time data and control applications with low latency.
- Regulatory compliance: Industrial networks must meet industry-specific regulations and standards, such as those related to data privacy and security.
- Integration with IT systems: Industrial networks must be integrated with enterprise IT systems to support overall business objectives and decision-making.
Some FAQ content was compiled with the assistance of ChatGPT. Due to the limitations of AI tools, all content was edited and reviewed by our content team.