Before “Internet of Things” was cool…

I blogged this in 2012… its about doing the right things to take advantage of IoT before the phrase went household in industry… isn’t it still all true? And for those of you who think the industrial space lags the commercial or enterprise spaces, think again ! In the mid 1990s, a simple limit switch had 37 pieces of network-accessible data available. I love to take complex topics & simplify !

Infrastructure – More than a Big Word

A good friend and co-worker recently said the tone of a recent article I wrote was “snarky”. I’ll take the best definition I could find… “mildly sarcastic and pointed” as his intention since he really liked what I wrote. For you that means that I avoid the big pretty words, keep it simple and tell it like it is… or how it should be. That’s how I’d like to learn about things – I’m guessing you’re the same. So here goes my first exception to the rule by talking about a big word…. Infrastructure!

You’ll see a lot of discussion in trade magazines about industrial Ethernet infrastructure. That’s code for “a network you designed” and the opposite of “a bunch of switches I strung together that works.” While Ethernet is awesome and often lets you add switches until something breaks, there are some exceptional reasons to design a real industrial network infrastructure:

  • My “Engineering” reason – A network infrastructure directly meets the need of getting control and information from point A to point B reliably and securely. While an ad-hoc collection of switches and cables often will work, I worry about the reliably and securely part, especially as the network expands over time. As soon as you start to think about adding a ring for redundancy or a firewall to improve security, you’re in Infrastructure mode. The design rules are pretty easy, so you might as well just jump in and do it right.
  • My “Business Management” reason – anything that is secure & reliable and supports your company’s need to get smarter, faster or better with relatively little cost or effort must be good. A great industrial Ethernet infrastructure enables all of that. It supports quick, easy, and inexpensive changes to your process without network surgery. Further, good design allows for quick expansion of the network itself that is almost always well within the network’s capacity and performance limits.
  • My “Designer” reason – it’s likely that the pieces of your industrial network live in a control room AND a control cabinet AND out in the middle of your process. If any piece of your infrastructure fails, you’ll have no control or information. If you’re the designer, be sure to make all of the pieces of your infrastructure meet the same demanding environmental specifications as the other equipment around it, else you risk losing a critical piece of your system. If you’re passing off the cable selection & layout task to someone else, pull it all back long enough to ensure you added industrial specifications to your paperwork.
  • My “Maintenance & IT reason” – it’s much easier to manage and maintain an infrastructure than to manage a bunch of Ethernet switches strung together. This is how IT people work in the enterprise space. People in the industrial space can do the same and use the tools provided to find and isolate problems with both the network and the attached automation & process devices.

I talked to a friend at a major automaker recently. He told me his industrial Ethernet network is at 1,800 devices and growing. He would never make it that far without an infrastructure. I’m sure many of you have stories about “infrastructures” or non-infrastructures… I’d like to hear ‘em, so feel free to poke back…

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